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July 21, 1997 Letter to Editor


July 21, 1997
Library Directors' Review Library 21 Committee's Program

Dear Editor:

The Library 21 Committee invited four library directors' to review the elements of our draft program at our July 16 meeting and tell us exactly what they thought of it: the good, the not so great and everything in between. We wanted to have a "peer review", so we could be closer to being confident that we have a solid program for a future main library before we offered it for public review. We have researched a dozen or so libraries across the country in comparable cities as we put the program together, but this was the first airing for review.

Our invitees were Penolope Johnson, Worcester Public Library; Tom Jewell, Waltham Public Library; Paula Polk, the Morse Institute: Natick Public Library; and Joe Dionne, Lawrence Public Library (Mr. Dionne had a prior committment and submitted comments in writing). All were familiar with Cambridge and had undergone -- or are going through building programs themselves.

The benefits of this review? Finding out if we were way off base; being told that our vision of the main library as a "civic heart" was unlikely to work; or that there were whole aspects that we had missed -- before we start our public reviews.

In fact, it was just the opposite. They all were impressed by our depth of understanding of current -- and future -- library issues; they said that they were going to give our draft program to their staffs as an example of a well-thought out program. They felt that our recommendations were right on target to produce a main library that would serve Cambridge well into the 21st century. While we did feel generally confident before the review, it was, if the truth be know, great to hear the words 'excellent program' from all of them.

They had specific comments we'd like to highlight below. As soon as we make a few changes to the program, we'll introduce it to the community, but we thought that their comments were important to share now. The minutes from the meeting will be available shortly.

  • Vision: they felt the civic heart concept was wonderful and set the tone for the library to support many aspects of Cambridge community interactions
  • Importance as a destination: they all said that a wonderful library is an incredible magnet and the use tends to grow
  • Main and branches: they agreed with us that a robust main is critical for strong branches
  • Children's services: they felt we had properly placed heavy emphasis on this aspect
  • Young adults: urged us to put even more emphasis on service this group
  • Meeting rooms: each director said their rooms were heavily used and wished they had more of all shapes and sizes
  • Reference: this service is growing rapidly in amount of use and the sophistication of the questions; people want and need much more help in finding and using resources
  • Technology: hard to have too many computers and places to work
  • Size of the library: they said that there is always pressure to cut space, but they urged us to make a strong case for each and every service so that everyone understood why the spaces were needed.
  • Food: those directors who had food areas really liked them; those that didn't wish they did.
  • Flexibility: libraries everywhere have to be able to change and evolve, but they cautioned us agains having "general purpose" rooms.
  • Staff offices and working space: while generally invisible to the public, the directors urged that this aspect not be shortchanged and that we have plans for future staff needs

In the next month or so, we will be ready to introduce the program to the residents of Cambridge and we look forward to doing so. We will try to make it available in as many ways as possible and we welcome suggestions. Please send them to Library 21 c/o City Manager's Office, City Hall, Cambridge.

Co-Chairs: Nancy Woods &Richard Rossi