A Good Five-Year Plan

“I think ambition is good. I think overreaching is good. I think giving people a vision of government that’s more than Social Security checks and debt reduction is good. I think government should be optimistic.”
Sam Seaborn, The West Wing, “100,000 Airplanes”

That quote kept rattling around in my mind as I spent Friday and Saturday working with a committee charged with developing the Fairfield Library’s next five year plan. Unlike other parts of town, the Library has a series of these plans and as one ends, the next begins and such action led to the renovation of the main branch. When it opened three years ago, everyone saw the money was well spent.

With a state grant, the Library hired Washington-based consultants to come and study the town. They conducted one-on-one interviews and focus groups in addition to phone and in-person surveys. From that, a group of library officials and other members of town were invited to form the committee. They must have liked my answers because I was asked to join in the fun.

We spent Friday talking about the town and its current makeup. Then we were placed into four groups and asked to blue sky our vision of where the town would be in 10-15 years. Without budget restrictions, we were asked to dream big thinking about children, teens, adults, seniors, long-time residents and newcomers, etc. Then, each group reported back. From there we were asked to hone the list down to the 7 major needs of the town going forward. Once that list was assembled, we determined what sort of role, if any, the Library could play. When we reconvene, we’ll work through the list and help craft the five year plan.

The survey had some interesting tidbits and continued study will reveal more, no doubt. While its heavily used for books, DVD and CD circulation has been growing so an eye towards technology will be vital. Same with the computer room. Also, we have a fair percentage of people from out of the town using the facility so its rep must be a good one.

Getting to know the Library staff has been a pleasure in addition to chatting with other neighbors who I am serving with. Next time we’ll be mixed up again which means more people to learn about. Always a good thing and all the better since the town and Library benefits.

It’s been an interesting exercise and one I’ve begun to urge our First Selectman to consider. A vision for the future, especially for a town like ours, is useful so we can work towards making as many of those goals a reality. Another term for this would be “smart growth” and while we’ve been cautious with big construction projects after completing substantial school building, our needs continue to evolve.

2 comments

  • Susan O

    Sorry, I’m sticking my two cents’ in, because we’ve been over the same scenarios in the past two weeks.

    As a town official, please don’t lose sight of the fact that above all, a library serves, wrong or right, a surprisingly large population of “borderline” people that no one seems to know about except librarians. These include the mentally ill, the homeless, the mentally challenged, the elderly, and those living in supervised living arrangements (those, like the high-functioning retarded, who live almost but not entirely without supervision, but can get confused when left to themselves). We are free, we have heat, we have air conditioning, we have chairs and computers, and we are open almost every day year round. We are where all the job coaches bring their clients. We are where the day programs bring their clients to pick movies or books or music. We are where the elderly come to stay warm or cool, with or without Alzheimers. We are where the English As a Second Language people come to learn, and even in a very – How do you say it PC? – “low-minority” town, we are faced with patrons who speak only various Asian languages, Russian, Italian, and others, as well as the deaf patron, and trying to understand the man with the electronic voice box.
    You would not notice these people walking down the street, but they are at the library literally every day, waiting on the steps for the door to open. They bring their own behavioral, medical, and psychiatric needs that librarians are not trained to handle. When economic times get bad, more and more of them show up, because it’s free and public; i.e., barring setting fires or repeatedly attacking patrons, we cannot ask them to leave. Not everyone in the public is thrilled by them, but we can’t kick them out.
    Any 5-year plan or plan for expansion should take some of these factors into account. From a town point of view (NOT the library’s!) a library should be a town center, a place of refuge and information in emergencies, since it is handicapped accessible and has heat and cooling. Space should be allotted (overallotted) for places for these invisible patrons to sit. In reality, it’s a social-services issue, and town social workers should make it a point to pop in once a week to talk to some of these people and keep an eye on them. Librarians aren’t trained for that.

    Sorry to be gloom-and-doom. We had a 3-hour meeting on what to do about the “invisibles,” including a parent who keeps dropping off his often-agitated autistic young adult to play on the computers up to 8 hours at a time. We eliminated our DVD viewing room, because it was becoming a problem with dropped-off children. With an average of 700 patrons a day coming through the doors, with shrinking staff and budgets and increasing patrons and services, we don’t have time to be case managers as well.

    Support your local Library! 🙂

  • Does Fairfield not have a Board of Library Trustees? In Brookline, the Board develops our library’s long-range plan.