Milford Library studies resident insights

The Milford Public Library is on a mission to better serve the community, so who better to ask for insights than the community at large.

In an effort to create a three-year strategic plan designed to help the library better serve the needs of the community, the Milford Public Library, 57 New Haven Avenue, asked residents via an online survey for guidance. A survey hasn’t been done, “in about 15 years,” explained Milford Library Director Christine Angeli. “So, it’s time to take a look at where we’re going with our services. We want a road map for the next few years; library services are really changing.”

The survey was offered to the public on the library’s website from Jan. 1-Feb, 1, and encouraged residents to voice their opinions. The library stated that its ultimate aim is to “provide the means for people to keep up with change in all areas, educate themselves continuously, become socially and politically aware, be more capable in their occupations, develop their creative abilities, appreciate literature, and the arts, be knowledgeable about the past, and stimulate their own personal and social wellbeing.”

The library too has taken additional steps in pursuit of its goal by hiring Maxine Bleiweis, Library Innovation Consultant, Coach and Speaker of Maxine Bleiweis & Associates, LLC. Bleiweis authored the survey and will now gather and analyze the data findings. In the world of libraries, Bleiweis has an international reputation as one who has helped to transform the way people view and make use of libraries as she creates many innovative changes .

“The Milford Public Library has embarked on a strategic planning process that will help guide our programs and services through the next three years,” explained Angeli. “The Library Board has hired Maxine Bleiweis & Associates to help facilitate the plan and compile community input. Through the use of an Advisory Council, focus groups, one-on-one interviews and a community survey, we are excited to develop a plan that truly meets the needs of Milford residents now and into the future.”

Bleiweis explained, “The main thrust of the survey is to understand peoples’ aspirations, hopes and dreams for the community of Milford first and then you layer the library into it and say OK, where does the library fit into this, how can the library be instrumental in helping people to reach those aspirations?”

“People are often surprised that you look at it from the outside in, rather than the inside out but throughout communities throughout the country it’s proven to be a very wise approach to strategic planning for our libraries. Without community, a library doesn’t have a real purpose,” continued Bleiweis. The brief survey was made up of 24 questions total broken into three parts; ‘You and the Milford Public Library’, ‘Community Vision’ and ‘Demographics.’

Bleiweis, who boasts multiple honors as an outstanding librarian/director, began her library director career in 1974 at the public library in Suffield, CT, followed by an 18-year tenure as director of the award winning library in Newington, CT and as director for 17 years at the Westport Library, where she was presented with the prestigious Charlie Robinson Award in 2015. She has served as the president of the Connecticut Library Association (CLA), which awarded her Librarian of the Year in 2011. Bleiweis has authored a book on libraries as economic drivers in communities through service to businesses.

When asked of the goal of the libraries initiative she added, “The goal is to come up with golden objectives and an approach to adhering to those - what they are exactly, we don’t know yet, we haven’t gotten that far. That will then outline a road map for the library and where it’s going and how it needs to get there and will help with everything from deployment of the existing resources it has (staff, materials) to the programs and services that it offers. It will also say what should we be doing differently if there is something and if so, how can we achieve that (cost, steps to get there, partners needed).”

Approximately 700 residents participated in the online survey. “That number is perfect, it’s more than the norm for a survey like that so it’s a great snapshot of the community.” The overall census has yet to be tallied, “We’re still looking at all of those, it’s part art, part science when you examine a survey,” continued Bleiweis. “We have also been doing interviews and focus groups with individuals and also are working with an advisory group made up of key members of the community, so it’s a very wholesome process.”

“Right now we as a group are talking about the community and coming up with a vision statement for the community and next - within the next two months, we’ll be talking about the library. We start with community and stay there for a good long time making sure we’re responding to community,” said Bleiweis.

“Public libraries are fortunate because they can be responsive in a way that school libraries cannot. In Connecticut each town (169) has their own library and can pay attention to their individual communities and then act accordingly and be very nimble. What libraries really should be are places where people can learn whatever they need to know whenever they need to know it, it’s an on-demand opportunity and an opportunity to bring community together and strengthen community by people getting to know each other, especially in a time when we can be very anonymous, which doesn’t enhance community. If a public library is successful the ultimate is if nobody in the community says ‘I’m not a library person.’ We have never, ever had more to learn than we do now.”

Bleiweis retired and immediately began her new career as a consultant July 1, 2015. “I started the firm two and a half years ago as I finished my Public Library Director career after 41 years. My goal is to help assist libraries be the best they could possibly be. We are very pleased with the survey response and people’s desire to be a part of this process on behalf of their community. That’s a very healthy positive beginning for this process. We should wrap up in June and they will have a plan that will take them well into the future.”