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Gleason Trustees focus on library’s long-term goals

by Alex Brewster

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Snowflakes decorated the windows of Gleason Public Library in January. (Photo by Ellen Huber) 

Chair of the Gleason Library Trustees Thorton Ash explained, “Libraries across the country are viewing themselves as more and more of a focal point of community involvement. It is not just a physical thing; it is a focal point to come together through events.” 

The Gleason Library’s three Trustees are elected officials and are responsible for hiring the library director, setting a long-term strategic direction and setting policies for the library. The current director, Christine Schonhart, has been with the library for less than a year but has 15 years of library experience, including six as director of branch libraries at Boston Public Library. Ash said, “We were very pleased that we could have Christine join us.” The director manages day-to-day operations, while the Trustees focus on long-term goals. Ash is stepping down at the end of his term this spring and Priscilla Stevens, a former Trustee, is running unopposed for the office.

Community activities fostered

Gleason Library strives to bring the community together through joint activities. One such activity is the community reading program. Each year a committee chooses a book and plans programs around it. The 2016 program, which just wrapped up in early February, focused on No Man’s Land by Elizabeth Samet, a book about the experience of the author as a literature professor at West Point. Activities included book discussions, poetry classes, a movie screening and even a visit with the author and a panel discussion with several residents who have experience at West Point. Schonhart said, “It’s a great way to get the town together for discussions on a book and I hope we have more participation next year. We are in the process of reviewing books now and should have a title announced in the fall.” 

The library also provides space for art exhibits curated by volunteers to help meet the cultural needs of Carlisle’s citizens. In the past these have included oil paintings, photography, jewelry, fiber art and mixed media works. 

Public’s needs evolve in digital age

The Trustees are responsible for managing the library’s collection. The library owns a total of 64,114 items; they have 15,645 items provided by other libraries, and provide 24,509 to other libraries. This includes historic items as well as their collection of books, magazines, DVDs, videos, audiobooks, ebooks and databases.

The library’s long-term plan includes keeping up with evolving media trends. Schonhart explained, “We’ve been loaning eBook readers and a Roku for several years and we are about to introduce a mobile hot spot for loan.” They provide support to the community to help use these new devices. This includes teaching classes on how to use the latest devices and software and how to search their databases. According to Schonhart, “Audiobooks, eBooks, streaming movies and e-magazines are really growing in popularity.”

Creating new quiet space

Their long-term plan also includes analyzing their use of space to improve efficiency and ensure that the needs of the community are met. Schonhart explained, “Another big project we are just starting to look at also comes from our strategic plan and it’s a full review of how the library is used to determine the best use of space for all of our services.” Part of this plan involves creating a quiet space on the second floor. This involves moving some of the children’s collections closer to the children’s room and installing a glass partition to create the quiet space. It will seat about six to eight people and can be used for quiet study or small group meetings. This includes the installation of a flat screen TV that can be connected to a laptop for presentations. This is expected to be completed by the end of April with a total cost of $20,000. 

Schonhart explained, “This comes from feedback during our strategic planning process that people wanted more options for quiet space and smaller group space.” 

Stewards of historic artifacts

An important role of the library is the preservation of historic artifacts, which they refer to as Special Collections. Their mission statement for that project states, “Gleason Public Library’s Special Collections seek to collect, preserve, and make available for research primary and secondary archival materials relating to the town of Carlisle.” The library offers programs “that clarify Carlisle’s unique place in the American historical landscape.” The collection includes manuscripts, photographs and other non-written records, genealogy materials, maps and atlases, yearbooks, printed and published materials. 

Funding sources

Gleason Library is funded through a mixture of town money and private donations. The town pays for the facility, personnel, equipment, computer network, operating hours, collection, supplies and basic services such as the regional library system, interlibrary loan program and reciprocal borrowing programs. These funds come through the approval process which is standard across town boards and is approved at Town Meeting. The Library Trustees manage an endowment fund, which is a 501(c)(3) charitable trust. This is used for expenses above and beyond the normal operating expenses, particularly capital improvements. 

Library Trustee meetings are open to the public. Ash noted, “One of the things I have done as chair is to have the trustees take a more strategic focus. Which means a monthly meeting is not always necessary depending on what is on the agenda.” 

The Trustees recognize the aesthetic appeal of the library building, and have been considering an upgrade to the exterior portion of the property. Ash said, “It is such a beautiful building but the eastern side of the library is in need of landscaping help.” They don’t have a precise plan yet; it is just a possible path for the future. He added, “It is something we would like to engage the town in.”

Separate from the Trustees are The Friends of the Gleason Library, which is a separate 501(c)(3) non-profit that raises money for additional library programs and projects. Rather than long-term expenses, their funds are used annually. ∆