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Oct 21, 1996: Letter to Editor - Chronicle


Dear Cambridge Chronicle Editor,

I'd like to give an update on the Library 21 Committee work during this Phase II: Casting a Wide Net. Our goal in this phase is to gather as much input as possible regarding what should go into a library system for the 21st century (hence our name "Library 21"). We want to make sure everyone has a chance to participate in the process and we promise to stay focused and keep to a fairly tight schedule. At the end of this phase, in December, we will have a long list of services and attributes that people want in the Cambridge Public Library system; and we'll have a list of the roles that people want our library to play in the community.

We'll also have advice and insights gathered from libraries in Massachusetts and around the country that have recently undergone expansions or implemented long range plans. Our "Other Libraries" Work Group arranged a tour for committee members and the public to visit Everett, Waltham and Newton libraries so we could learn about their planning processes, the services they provide for their communities and how the buildings (Everett and Waltham are expansions; Newton has a new building) support the services. Several committee members also visited Arlington, Weston, and Plymouth libraries. We will also talk with library directors in Ann Arbor; San Diego, Arlington, VA ; San Antonio; Berkeley; Broward County, FL, to name a few. It seems that expanded libraries are on many cities' agenda these days and we would be remiss not to learn as much from them as we can.

Another source of advice comes from experts right here in Cambridge. Earlier this month, we met with Ann Wolpert, Director, MIT Libraries. We asked her to discuss with us the role that the MIT Libraries play and what their relationship is to our public library. We had been thinking that it might be possible for MIT libraries to help support the needs of the Cambridge public. Whether they could or could not, we wanted to make the relationship explicit. Ms. Wolpert explained that MIT's collections are specifically geared to support the Institute's curriculum and the research; furthermore, because it is an academic research library, it has very targeted customers, there are many restrictions on its use, it has to keep materials forever and it assumes its users know how to conduct high level research on their own (i.e. there is very little support from the reference desk). Bottom line: MIT Libraries simply cannot provide day-to-day public library-type services.

Additionally, Ms Wolpert told us about the difficulty and pitfalls inherent in long-term storage of electronic media; for example, it is a constant challenge to keep materials entered on obsolete software readable in perpetuity. She also explained how important it is to figure out who our library customers are and will be in the future to position the services to meet their needs.

I hope everyone is aware of the Neighborhood Work Groups that we're setting up to gain input about what people want; we'll be working with the Mid Cambridge neighborhood next. We've also working with young and young adult readers to hear their opinions and soon will have a Youth Library 21 Committee to work with us . We also want to focus on services for seniors and will start this soon.

We are assuming that everyone living and working in Cambridge is a potential stakeholder and should be involved in shaping a library for the 21st century: business men and women, social service providers, the police, educators of all kinds, public agencies -- we look forward to hearing from you. By mail: c/o City Manager's Office, 795 Massachusetts Ave; by the Internet: www.ci.cambridge.ma.us; or call me directly, 661-7533. And don't forget, you can read our minutes and reports on the www page and in the libraries.


Nancy Woods

Co-Chair, Library 21 Committee