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Plan aims to put wind in library's sails

Oxford resident Kim Switalski does some coursework at the library as she pursues her Biblical Studies degree from Rochester College. “This is a nice place to come and study,” she said. “It’s quiet and there’s a lot of good resources here, too.” Living about a mile away from the library, Switalski said the facility’s easy to get to by bicycle or car. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
September 15, 2010 - Stormy economic seas still lay ahead, but the Oxford Public Library is hoping to navigate them unscathed with a new plan designed to pump more wind into its sails.

"We're not at a standstill," said Library Board Vice President Kathy Hoeflein. "We're still moving ahead."

Utilizing input from library staffers, board members, and the community at-large, the local institution created and adopted a strategic plan for 2011-15 that includes goals designed to increase user-friendliness, attract new patrons, reach out to the community and create new revenue streams.

"This was a community effort," said Library Board President Duane Salswedel. "There were a number of people in on this survey. It wasn't just librarians and library people deciding what's the best way for the library to go."

"When you receive input from the community, you know the results are going to be positive because it shows they care and they want to make it a better facility," Hoeflein said.

The five-page plan includes a total of 10 goals, each of which has four to eight objectives designed to improve the way the library functions, the services it provides and the way the community perceives it.

"Everything's got to change these days," said Library Board Treasurer Tom Offer. "I think this helps keep us on track and make the right changes, so we can move along in the right direction."

Hoeflein said she was pleased to see how "diverse" the goals were. Instead of having a narrow focus, this plan offers something for everyone in her opinion.

"I think you're always surprised at how people see things so differently," she said. "There are needs that I would have never thought of that were important to people."

First and foremost, the plan is designed to assure the library meets the needs of the community.

Some of the objectives to accomplish this include expanding the children's area, possibly providing outdoor seating and exploring alternatives "for enhancing the existing layout and for expanded use of the facility" such as more room for group study and local history.

Salswedel noted there had been some discussion over the last few years about maybe expanding the library building in terms of adding square-footage, but given the poor economy, that idea was nixed for now.

"I don't think that's going to be a possibility," he said. "I don't think that's something we can look at for the next five years."

Offer agreed.

"We might be able to change some things around within what we have, but as far as any major (additions), unless all of a sudden we have a windfall of money, we just can't afford to do it right now," he said.

Enticing community members to use the library is a significant part of this strategic plan. Ideas include exploring the creation of a cafe, beverage station and/or vending services, promoting use of the community room and examining ways to invite folks to exhibit their talents and hobbies.

Salswedel especially liked the idea of having an area where somebody could "enjoy a good book with a cup of coffee."

Ultimately, the plan seeks to grow the library's patron base while at the same time ensuring the needs of existing patrons are met.

Encouraging book clubs, holding "open house" events, conducting guided tours of the facility and promoting the library at school functions and community events like Celebrate Oxford are all ways to potentially increase patronage.

To accommodate the needs of current patrons, the library will look into providing outreach programs for senior citizens, home-bound residents and others.

The library also plans to provide "easy ways" for patrons to submit their suggestions and explore the idea of "self-checkout," which involves having machines that patrons can use to sign out materials in a faster, more convenient manner..

Increasing the library's visibility was recognized as critical goal in the strategic plan.

Some ways to accomplish this include developing a presence at community events and on public access television, generating newspaper coverage of library events, creating flyers, brochures and infomercials, and expanding the website so the staff can update and modify it.

Keeping pace with the world's ever-changing technology will be crucial for the library to survive in the 21st century.

That's why the institution is going to investigate virtual reference services, look at having a presence on Facebook and Twitter, add amenities like a color copier and color printer, make children's technology stations more user-friendly and increase awareness of on-line databases.

As the local tax base continues to shrink due to property values decreasing on an annual basis, the library will seek opportunities to generate additional revenue from other sources. In addition to the usual grants, sponsorships and memorials/endowments, the library plans to re-create a "Friends of the Library" group to put on fund-raising events, conduct silent auctions and possibly run a cafe and/or gift shop.

Renting the community room to "for-profit groups" and possibly enacting user fees for fax and notary services are other potential revenue streams.

Despite the tough economic times, library board members feel the institution is weathering the storm quite well.

"We're working within our means, which is really tough on the staff and calls for some tough decisions, but we're going to make it," Offer said. "We're strong financially. We'll get through this and still be able to provide the services that everybody expects from us."

Plenty of credit was given to library Director Bryan Cloutier.

"We're staying within budget. Bryan's really investigated all the ways to keep us that way, so we don't end up against the wall," Hoeflein said. "We don't want to cut services at all, if we can help it."

"I think overall we're doing well because of the efforts of our library director," Salswedel said. "He's been able to do some things (budgetwise) and not really cut staff."

Members of the public who wish to review the strategic plan can visit the library at 530 Pontiac St. and request a copy.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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