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Wheaton Public Library prepares for community input, first strategic plan

Published: Monday, April 7, 2014 12:56 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Bill Ackerman - backerman@shawmedia.com)
Pippa Narrajos, 3, of Wheaton and her mom, Rebecca, read a Berenstain Bears book Tuesday in the children's department at the Wheaton Public Library. The library is commissioning a community survey to help it remain relevant to its patrons.

WHEATON – The Wheaton Public Library will soon join City Hall and Community Unit School District 200 in turning to residents for input.

The Library Board of Trustees approved two assessments in the last month aimed at directing its future – a $13,100 contract to evaluate facility use and a $6,750 contract to gauge community needs for the library’s first strategic plan.

The second contract with consultant Turks Cap will include four components, according to Executive Library Director Betsy Adamowski – a trend analysis of library usage, city demographic reports, a survey of library users and a series of 10 focus groups.

The inspiration for the undertaking came from a desire to offer 21st-century service to the community.

“In general, you’re going to see a lot of libraries doing this more and more,” Adamowski said. “We have found in libraries today that we cannot measure our library usage based on circulation anymore. It’s not a true representation of how the libraries are being used.”

The choice by the city, District 200 and the library to all reach out at the same time isn’t necessarily a coincidence, she said, as people and agencies alike are watching their wallets.

“In the old days, you used to get a list of the references you have to have, the books you have to have, and we don’t do that any more,” Adamowski said. “We have more social service needs and special other needs that go beyond the traditional library practices.”

She said with the growing expectations of what a library needs to stay relevant, staff must be sure the resources they have are going toward the right things.

Turks Cap representative Sarah Keister Armstrong said having an individualized community assessment has become more important as libraries offer increasingly specialized services, especially in the Chicago suburbs, which have seen huge demographic shifts the last few decades.

Adamowski and Armstrong agreed the more significant aspect of the project is the focus groups with the public and community stakeholders.

Armstrong said the sessions, estimated to start mid-May, will likely last an hour or less, and will involve members of the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce, elected officials, patrons and nonpatrons. She isn’t certain what will come from them, but said Turks Cap is looking for positive and negative feedback alike.

“You really can’t go into studies like this with any expectations or preconceived notions,” she said. “We really like to use models that are community-based and community-driven.”

Those not invited to the focus groups can weigh in starting next week. Turks Cap will put out surveys throughout April for patrons to offer their opinions and experiences. They will also be able to signify on the forms whether they would like to be considered for one of the sessions.

The facility usage study, led by architecture consultant Studio 3G, will take place simultaneously, incorporating library usage data to identify how best to use the interior for programming.

Armstrong said she plans to have data compiled by the board’s June meeting. Adamowski believes the library could have an established strategic plan by early July and it will try to incorporate the suggestions of both consultants in the 2015 budget process, which begins in August.

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