Darien Library in NYT

New Darien LibraryI woke up Saturday morning, grabbed a cup of coffee and saw that I had an email from Kate Sheehan saying, “Nice article in the Times!”

It turns out that Louise Berry, our director, was interviewed months ago for the article and thought it was probably abandoned. Not so, and it’s quite good. It begins:

WHEN residents of Darien, Conn., walk into their new library sometime in 2009, they will be able to read a book or magazine while sipping coffee in a cafe that spills out to the sidewalk. They will find books grouped by subject, as they are in bookstores, instead of according to the Dewey Decimal System. They will lounge in overstuffed chairs, peruse DVDs in a Blockbuster-style video section, write a report on a wireless computer or print one on a color copier, and bind a proposal in the building’s small business center.

And I love this:

“Libraries see their roles as much more of a cultural gathering place where people come together, kind of like the salons of the French and Victorian coffee houses,” said Darien’s library director, Louise Berry.

Other Connecticut library directors were interviewed as well: Maxine Bleiweis (Westport), Pat Holloway (West Hartford), and Kathy Leeds (Wilton). Connecticut is really a nexus of library change–an observation I made when coming to speak at Quinnipiac for the Connecticut Library Consortium in October, 2006. The librarians here do not lack for passion and energy and it shows.

But I think the article is good because it doesn’t take the familiar “oh, look what the cute libraries are doing” tone. It also reinforces what I’ve been thinking all along–libraries are not just about content. We need to be focusing on the library experience. In fact, content is going to become a tertiary component of what we do. Instead, we will be become enablers and collaborative partners with our public. A strong focus on the community is key to that vision. Not just reactive care and customer service, but a proactive approach to enriching the lives of the citizens around us. If you look at where the houses and hotels are on the game board, this is the real estate that Google and Amazon cannot touch. As Maxine Bleiweis says, “Human contact has gradually gone away. You add the isolation of the suburbs and you’ve really got a situation where people need to come together. One of the most natural places is the library.” If I could get our users to associate any two words, they would be “home” and “library.”

And if you want to watch the progress of the New Darien Library (you know you do!), click on the image above to see our construction site web-cam.

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