In a town of about 19,000 people, it must have been a little disheartening for Brookfield Public Library officials when only about 25 or 30 members of the general public showed up for the first of four community engagement sessions designed not just to inform citizens about the need for a new library facility, but convince them of that need.
While the sessions themselves are strictly informative, the message is abundantly clear: The library is just too small to handle all that the library offers — from computer classes for adults to an after-school program for elementary school students to lectures and other fun events.
For those who showed up at the first community session last week, it was something of an eye-opener. Most were unaware of many of the programs or the breadth of offerings. The library isn’t simply a warehouse for books and periodicals. It’s an interactive, vibrant resource for children and adults alike.
It’s an Internet café, a small business hub, a print and digital research center, a technology workshop.
At least that’s what the library sees its mission as being. Librarians see their facilities as evolving into the kinds of resource center their counterparts a generation ago could only have imagined.
The hard part is convincing the general public of that change in approach to libraries. While there probably aren’t too many people who simply view the library as a repository of books any longer, there are a good number of people who wonder why there needs to be a bigger facility at all.
The future is digital, they contend. Businesses are shedding bricks and mortar for the Internet. Why can’t libraries do the same?
Instead, the library is not only thinking bricks and mortar, it’s thinking of almost tripling the square footage of the present building. Many people can’t get their heads around that.
Of course, the people who rely on the library for the after-school programs, the lectures, special events, classes see the need. They’ve crammed themselves into the one or two small meeting rooms in the library.
One of the discussions that will be most important moving forward is this: Just what is it that the community wants from its library.
As fate would have it, programming is the subject of the next community engagement session that the Place 2016 committee is hosting on Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. at the St. Barbara Parish Center.
Admittedly, the acoustics aren’t great in the room and it can be hard to hear everything that’s being said, but the reason it’s being held there instead of the library is simple. There’s no room to accommodate even a crowd of the modest size in the library when the building is open for its general operations. The largest meeting room can only hold about 30 people.
Should the library host a free after-school program? Should it be a place where one-person business startups can take advantage of free Wi-Fi to make deals? What exactly does Brookfield want its library to offer?
That meeting would be the place to send the message.