Athenaeum strategic plan focuses on five areas

Survey responses highlight need for community space, more DVDs

WESTFIELD-After months of meetings including community input, the board of directors of the Westfield Athenaeum has released its 2020-2025 strategic plan.

“The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, the governing body in Massachusetts who oversees libraries, library funding and grants, has approved this plan,” said Kate Deviny, director, Westfield Athenaeum.

Athenaeum staffers, trustees, patrons and a city councilor began meeting last February to form the strategic plan and create a survey for public input.

The 2020-2025 strategic plan for the Westfield Athenaeum is now available for view online. (Lori Szepelak Photo)

“Due to the surveys, print, online and in person, all reported the desire for more DVDs, better parking, more books, more programming, accessibility, public forums, and thoughtful discussions about the world around us,” said Deviny.

The top five patron responses concerning what the library should focus on includes promoting culture and local history, partnering with local businesses and nonprofits, offering after-school homework help, providing better parking and hours, and increasing creative resources.

“The public discussions and surveys, modern library theory and best practices, led us to create our action plan which accomplishes our patrons’ goals,” said Deviny.

Deviny noted some changes are already underway, including more room for DVDs, more series DVDs offered, and an expanded adult book area.

“We have placed comfortable seating around the library, courtesy of the Friends of the Westfield Athenaeum,” said Deviny. “We are also expanding our programming with the addition of a Cookbook Bookclub and will be adding a Great Book Club which will meet in the evening.”

Deviny added that genealogy classes are now being offered as well as other “opportunities as staffing and money permit.”

Increasing the use of the Athenaeum is vital to its growth and funding as well as fulfilling its mission statement and vision, according to Deviny.

“The recent renovations have beautifully recreated our space,” she said. “Our location at the center of the city makes us the perfect spot to meet, and the cleanliness and spaciousness create an ambiance that patrons enjoy.”

Deviny elaborated that by providing more seating, increasing programming and classes, as well as putting more information on the website and on social media, the Athenaeum will meet area residents where their interests lie and continue to foster a “community center base.”  Also, communication remains imperative as Athenaeum staff expand services and introduce new participants to forums and programs.

Another important aspect of the Athenaeum is its ability to save area residents money. 

“Patrons don’t have to buy a book, DVD or CD,” said Deviny, adding, “We lend out museum passes to many local museums. We also have Wonderbooks and Launchpads which many parents can’t afford.”

Deviny explained that Wonderbooks read the book aloud to a child and the Launchpad tablets are teeming with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) materials to help children learn.

“The fundamental reason to use the library is because we love seeing our patrons, we chat, find out about each other’s lives, we know the resources to help when a gentle ear does not suffice,” said Deviny. “We know where to send you for taxes, who our representative is, we can reveal our local history, find you a garage or doctor, and give you craft or auto repair books.”

Deviny said her trained staff can answer a multitude of questions and also offer programs ranging from story times and crafts for children to hosting First Thursdays, book clubs and a speaker series for adults.

Since public input was crucial to writing the strategic plan, Deviny noted that 73% of the responses were from the “population of 41 years – older.”

“This makes the survey slightly skewed as the city’s population of 41 years and older is only 41% of our population,” said Deviny in the report. “The difference comes to bear when thinking of technology in the library. Our state report showed an increase in electronic information, while on the survey, technology and computer use ranked sixth and seventh.”

As with any survey, Deviny said there were some “surprises.”

“We hadn’t realized how strongly the community thought about city history,” said Deviny. “It was amazing that this part of being the city’s library was terribly important to those who responded.”

Deviny added that community input stressed the need for more space for public and informational forums and language classes.

“I hadn’t realized these needs were not met,” she said.

The strategic plan is available to view online at www.westath.org.

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