Smart Investment: The Importance of Valley Libraries

From special events and programs year-round to free Wi-Fi and digital technology resources, libraries in our region are about much more than books.

When was the last time you stepped into your local library?

As a resident of the Lower Naugatuck Valley, chances are you've been there recently, but not necessarily to borrow a book. Libraries across our region, and nationwide, are transforming into community resources for residents of all ages.

"We're no longer the 'Shush!' place. It's less about books and more about socialization for folks," explains Ian Parsells, Head Librarian at Derby Neck Library. "You have a lot of people who cannot leave their own community, so to not have a public library nearby is a crippling scenario."

In recent years, Derby Neck Library has added computers and free Wi-Fi to meet the needs of the community members who go there to do homework, look for a job, relax or socialize. With such a wide array of services, Parsells says it's apparent that libraries are still a vital aspect of community life.

"Libraries have sort of taken on the role of community centers," says Parsells, who has reduced some of the older book collections to increase seating for patrons, many of whom stay for the afternoon rather than simply check out a book and leave.
According to Elspeth Lydon, Shelton Library System Director, the Plumb Memorial Library has always been a common place to meet, particularly among those who are multi-lingual. While the library's physical location remains unchanged, the ways in which patrons access information has evolved.

"Every time new technology is introduced, whether it's the record players or filmstrip machines of the 20th century, to now offering Internet and remote access, we adapt," says Lydon. "With all this new technology, patrons can benefit from so many of the same great services, such as checking out e-books and even audiobooks online, without ever having to step foot in either our Plumb or Huntington Branch locations."

Derby Public Library Director Cathy Williams agrees that libraries have changing roles in the community, noting that they often serve as warming centers in the winter, cooling centers in the summer and social service providers at times.
"We also participate in the CT Summer Food program, distributing lunch for school age children throughout the summer," Williams explains.

Dawn Higginson, Director at Oxford Public Library, says programming there has always centered around community engagement.

"We look for ways to integrate what we do best, connecting people with books and information, with events and programs happening in town," she says.

For example, the library recently partnered with the Oxford Historical Society to host a book-signing party of a book detailing the history and meaning of the stained glass windows in St. Peter's Episcopal Church in town. In the spring, the library will partner with newly opened RadArt, an Oxford-based craft studio, to create an art program for children and teens.

"The community aspect is much stronger here in the Valley compared to other parts of the state," says Seymour Public Library Director Suzanne Garvey. She says programming for adults has been a focus area for her staff, and recent historical programs and lectures have had a very positive response.
In the future, Garvey says she will be looking for ways to designate quiet space in the limited square footage they have, while also providing a more social space where folks aren't expected to be quiet.

Higginson, who is excited to see the Oxford Public Library move into its first standalone building in late 2017, sees much of the same community-building in the future of libraries.

"We're providing opportunities for people to meet, allowing them to learn from our materials and each other, using technologies as they evolve to gather information and share it," she says. "We're also providing for the needs of our communities in creative and imaginative ways."