Striking the Mark

July 2012

"If you would hit the mark, you must aim a little above it."     - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

There is little doubt that the staff of the Mathews Memorial Library gets stretched – especially during the summer when the challenge is to inspire and excite young people. The entire staff is dedicated to serving anywhere, anytime in the library, and this is never truer than when we offer a youth program such as we have done each July for the past ten years.

Empowering the Team. First and foremost, staff must be encouraged to take risks without fear of disapproval if they don't succeed. There has been no shortage of such experiences at the Library, but those events are far outweighed by the number of successes. Because each of us brings different skills and experiences to the table, there are times when we have difficulty reaching consensus on what will work or not work; however, the culture allows for honest mistakes. We learn from everything and keep the focus on customer service.

Empowering the Public. Programs for the public have long been a staple of library service. To be effective, we recognize that the first consideration in program planning has to be the needs of the public. New and emerging needs bring on the cultivation and creation of new programs. This was never more evident than in 2008 when the dimensions of the economic crisis became clear, and libraries across the Commonwealth and the Country pondered how their services might be applied. The Mathews Library responded with the establishment of Career Connect Center, operating in partnership with the VEC and the federal Job Assistance Center program. Three staff members and a part-time consultant were trained to assist individuals seeking employment. The Center is still active with assistance available each Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

A second successful initiative was proposed through the youth center. It involves a partnership with Mathews County Public Schools and is known as the Mathews County Parent Resource Center or PRC. The Center is housed in the library and its mission is to provide the community with resources to increase awareness and knowledge of individuals with special needs. It has become a safe place where individuals with disabilities, families and support caregivers can make connections, find answers to their questions and gain understanding to improve their quality of life.

As mentioned, not all initiatives are so successful. The library recently launched a program, "Digital Days." With scanning equipment on loan from the Library of Virginia, the library staff proposed working with local organizations including the Mathews County Historical Society and the Mathews Maritime Foundation to capture and preserve historical and family records for Mathews residents. Residents were invited to bring documents, photos and other records to the library during "Digital Days" where trained library staff would copy their records and provide a digital copy. In turn, the library would retain a copy and link it to the jointly held archival collection. Sadly, only two collections of documents and photographs were presented for scanning.

Lessons Learned. The library has quickly learned that traditional library space cannot accommodate the expansion of programs that has transpired over the past several years. The single community room is just not enough space, either for youth or adult programming. If for no other reason, the library must be able to accommodate multiple programs simultaneously. The vision of added space that is seen with the unfolding of the anticipated renovation of the adjacent courtyard and building brings great excitement to staff and patrons. The work of the Friends and their dedication to making this vision a reality is greatly appreciated.

Programs have transformed the Mathews Memorial Library into a true community center. They have magnified the importance of the library to the community and attracted new visitors to the library who are anxious to participate. There is no doubt that an expanded and varied array of programs will be one of the key services of the successful public library of the future.