Thursday, June 20, 2013

Russell Library Company Builds "Bridge to the Future"

Press Release: Russell Library Company Builds "Bridge to the Future"

The Russell Library Company held its annual meeting on Tuesday evening, June 18th.  The featured speaker was library consultant Alan Gray who was hired by the Library's Board of Trustees to assist in the development of a Strategic Plan.

Board President Richard Kamins began the meeting by reflecting on the first Board of Trustees meeting he attended.  It was on September 11, 2001, and followed his attendance at a service held because of the World Trade Center bombing.  He recalled that trustees were adamant in their conviction that it was their job to support institutions like public libraries that encourage people to read a variety of opinions on any issue and to protect the public from any organization or movement that seeks to destroy opposing points of view.

Mayor Dan Drew thanked Mr. Kamins for his leadership of the Library.  He quoted Garrison Keillor, who often noted that, "Libraries are the cornerstone of democracy."  Mayor Drew said that he had been very pleased to participate in the Strategic Planning process through his interviews with consultant Alan Gray.  He felt very strongly that, "While every community has a library, only Middletown has Russell Library."

Mr. Gray began his presentation by saying he had been very much impressed with the warmth and commitment, not only of the people who work at Russell Library, but also of the people who use the Library.  He learned that Russell Library is unique in serving community needs.  The Strategic Plan, he said is a guide, a reminder, and a spur to action, a pact between the Library Board and staff on the one hand and local non-profit organizations, businesses, government, and the school system, on the other, to work together for a better community.

Mr. Gray characterized the Plan as a "bridge to the future of Middletown," stressing that bridges provide structure and strength for everyone who crosses them.  In the same way, the Library serves everyone in the community.  The structure and strength it provides are in its resources and commitment to a better future.  He compared the covered bridges of the past with modern bridges.  Covered bridges that still exist are often beloved, but they are useless in today's world.  We want a Library "bridge" to be strong and useful, to have extraordinary capacity to provide resources for the public, whatever the future may bring.

Asked what his favorite parts of the planning process were, Mr. Gray responded that he had been especially pleased by the two excellent and enthusiastic meetings he had had with Library staff, who had many ideas to share and who clearly cared about giving the best service possible.  He added that he had also been pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful and sincere comments he had received from members of the public through the public forums, surveys, focus groups, and individual interviews he had held.

When someone inquired about the most important thing in the Strategic Plan, Mr. Gray said the Library needs to say each year what it has achieved and what it has not been able to achieve, and also what it plans to do in the coming year.  He maintained that there is no shame in changing goals based on what you have learned, and that we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes.  The Library must not be afraid to fail at some of the initiatives it undertakes.  To illustrate his point, he told the story of the manager at a large company whose $500,000 project failed.  Expecting to lose his job, he apologized to his CEO.  The CEO responded, "We're not firing you.  We just paid $500,000 to educate you!'

Mr. Gray finished up by stressing that a strategic plan must be flexible and adaptable.  At one library, he was proudly shown a plan that had not been changed or updated in almost 20 years.  He said that meant no one had thought about it or what that library needed to be doing in all that time.  Middletown and Russell Library did not want that type of thinking.

The Strategic Plan can be viewed on the Russell Library web site at:, under the heading, "About Us."  There are also copies for loan or for reference at the Library.

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