By Igor Studenkov | For the Bugle
The Niles-Maine District Library Board of Trustees voted unanimously to approve the strategic plan priorities for the next 18 months during their July 19 meeting.
The board originally approved the strategic plan for the next four years during its April 19 meeting. This vote laid out what parts of the plan will take priority until the end of 2018, and what steps the library would take to implement them. It included improving building navigation, improving customer service, looking into ways to improve service on the northwestern side of the library district, putting more resources into community engagement, exploring more community partnerships, increase cultural awareness among staff and looking into whether the library’s Chapter One newsletter can be improved.
As library director Susan Lempke explained to the board, the library already has two major projects on its hands before the end of next year. On April 2018, the library will switch its catalog and patron database, which is used to check out, reserve and keep track of library materials, going from software provided by SirsiDynix to software provided by Polaris. The library will also be setting up passport services. Because of the complexity of both tasks and the training the staff would have to go through, there is only so much the staff will be able to do. As the result, some of the more complicated and time-consuming aspects of the plan have been pushed back.
For now, there are several major priorities. Lempke said that patrons have been complaining that it isn’t always easy to find their way around the library – noting, for example, that the board meeting room doesn’t have a sign on the door to idenify it. The staff will ensure all rooms that patrons use are more clearly labeled, put a library map on the first floor, improve labels for various library sections, add signs pointing toward restrooms and meeting rooms. During busy times, a staff member will be stationed by the door to help patrons find their way, and all staff members will learn how to give patrons directions as clearly as possible.
The library will also work on improving customer service. The library would launch a new staff intranet system – which, Lempke told the board, was long overdue for an upgrade – to improve the flow of information. Another major priority was to start looking into ways to improve service in the northwestern parts of Niles and the parts of unincorporated Maine and Northfield townships the library serves. For the next 18 months, the major priority would be to collect data about the area population and their needs, as well as whether the existing public transit system does a good job connecting patrons from those areas to the library.
The library is currently served by Pace route 226 on weekdays and Niles Free Bus route 410 all week. However, most residents from the northwest portion of the library service areas would need to make at least one transfer to get to either route.
Lempke said that, once the data is gathered, she would put together a task force to see how the service can be improved.
“I don’t want to form a community taskforce before we know what the taskforce is for,” she said. “I don’t want to waste anybody’s time.”
Over the past few years, the library has occasionally floated the possibility of opening a branch in the northwestern part of the district. As previously reported by the Bugle, the library had a branch in the area for most of its history, but it was shut down in the late 1980s to save money.
Trustee Dennis Martin, who was elected to the board in April 2017, said he was skeptical of the idea.
“I don’t understand the whole thought process of expanding the service to the northwest side,” he said.
Lempke replied that the households in that part of the library district pay the library share of the property taxes, so it makes sense to do more for them.
Trustee Linda Ryan said she attended an American Library Association conference workshop on branch libraries earlier this year; she learned that there are a number of ways the library could increase their presence in the area without necessarily building a full-fledged brick-and-mortar branch.
“They were saying that it [could be] like an ice cream truck,” she said. “They also had things about storage units and people popping up.”
Another priority was to get the word out about the library’s name change from “Niles Public Library” to “Niles-Maine District Library,” which took effect on July 1. The plan called for changing the existing signage and adding some new signage on the building exterior. The library would look at into improving marketing. It would look at how the patrons prefer to receive information and take a hard look at the Chapter One quarterly newsletter, surveying patrons to see if it’s an important way of delivering information and look at how the other libraries handle their newsletters.
Martin said that he wasn’t sure whether the marketing was necessary.
“I’m just trying to figure out why we need to have marketing stuff towards libraries,” he said. “We have phenominal resources, but it should be up to schools to communicate it out.”
Board president Karen Dimond said that the plan will be reviewed every three months.
“It’s not written in stone, and we can amend them,” she said.