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The Public Library Context

The focus of this study is on the Bristol Public Library (BPL) which serves approximately 44,000 residents within Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia. The BPL's governance, setting, and users will be discussed and strengths and weaknesses will be identified. The library will be analyzed in terms of its purpose, vision, and capabilities. Based on this information a vision statement will be created and strategies to improve current services will be identified. This paper serves as an introduction to a seven part case study. Throughout this case study, BPL's Adult Learning Lab will be evaluated in terms of the library's strategic plan and the needs of its community. The results of the evaluation will be utilized to assist in the expansion of the services offered in the learning lab.

1.1 Identify your PL agency. Characterize the nature of the agency, its setting (size, system/branch, location, library governance, etc.), and the people who are employed in it. What kind of organization is are its members like? What are its strengths and weaknesses it? What?

The Bristol Public Library (BPL) serves approximately 44,000 residents within Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia (United States Census Bureau, 2014, July 1). The Bristol Public Library has two locations; a main library located in Bristol, Virginia and the Avoca Branch located in Bristol, Tennessee. The library was pioneered by the 1900 Club, Bristol's first women's study club, in 1929. It was the first property to be co-owned by the cities of Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia (Bristol Public Library, n.d.a). BPL has roughly 20,000 active card holders and circulates approximately 373,000 library items annually (Bristol Public Library, 2012, p.3). The library currently has six meeting rooms available and offers numerous technical training and GED preparation sessions in its computer lab (Bristol Public Library, 2012, p.3). The library also offers several reading and teen programs to engage the community youth.

BPL's current Executive Director is Jud Barry, who oversees thirty-two employees at the main library and three employees at the Avoca Branch (Barry, 2014). These employees include administration, five librarians, an adult learning lab coordinator, two adult learning lab teachers, a cataloger, and several library staff members. In addition during the 2011-2012 fiscal year, BPL had a total of 2,500 hours volunteered (Bristol Public Library, 2012, p.9). Mr. Barry works in conjunction with the BPL Foundation Board and an eleven member Library Board of Trustees, who communicates directly with the twin cities of Bristol (Barry, 2014). The board consists of five members from each city and one additional member selected by the other board members (Bristol, TN, n.d.b). The role of the BPL Foundation is to raise, supervise, and administer funds to support library programs (Bristol Public Library, n.d.e).

The twin cities of Bristol each have their own council-manager form of government. The City Councils consist of a mayor, vice mayor, and three other elected officials (Bristol, TN, n.d.a). According to the United States Census Bureau, the community is 52.7% female and 47.3% male. Out of the 44,000 community members, 81.1% have a high school diploma or more. The median household income is $33,921, with 53.7% of residents being employed in the civilian labor force and 19.7% living in poverty (United States Census Bureau, 2014, July 1).

With the help from the funds raised by the BPL Foundation, BPL offers a wide array of programming for children and young adults. The library has a teen department that features books, DVDs, and magazines for youth. The department offers several programs including book clubs, movie events, art and entertainment, and games (Bristol Public Library, n.d.f). According to the Children's Department web page, "the children's library . is a magical place for kids" (Bristol Public Library, n.d.d). The department offers a collection of 40,000 books, magazines, CDs, and cassettes as well as computers designated for children's use only. The department also offers various programs such as story times, reading programs, and crafts. The children's room is decorated with a colorful mural titled, "The Cultural Narrative Mural". The mural is split into panels, each featuring iconic images from major continents such as Appalachian America and East Asia (Bristol Public Library (n.d.d). Adding a special touch to the BPL Children's section is Citrus, the Library Bird. Citrus has been greeting and entertaining library patrons since February 2006 (Bristol Public Library, n.d.d).

The library has provided services to patrons through its Adult Learning Lab (A.L.L.) since 1987. The A.L.L. offers several benefits to adult patrons such as assistance preparing for the GED and college entrance exams, computer classes, assistance with reading, writing and math, resume writing, and English as a second language (Bristol Public Library, n.d.b). The A.L.L. is dedicated to assisting its community in reducing the digital divide. During the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the A.L.L. provided 1,000 individuals with training sessions and 715 with GED preparation assistance (Bristol Public Library, 2012). A current identified weakness for BPL is a lack of funding to keep the lab staffed with teachers throughout the entire week (Enis, 2012). One of the proposed projects by the Sullivan County Technology Action Plan is to improve adult education through digital literacy education (Connected Nation, 2013, p. 12). Other goals identified were to improve education through digital learning and develop training and awareness programs for small and medium businesses (Connected Nation, 2013, October, p.13). According to Senior Librarian, Jeanne Powers, BPL is currently reassessing the A.L.L. to determine how it can best be utilized (personal communication, January 27, 2015). It could be beneficial for BPL to look into partnering with the Sullivan County Broadband Committee to help meet the community needs they have identified as lacking.

1.2 Summarize the PL organization's mission, goals, and objectives.

On Bristol Public Library's website, they state their mission is "Expanding Minds and Building Community" (Bristol Public Library, n.d.a). This mission statement is catchy and to the point. It captures two primary goals of public libraries in just a few words. Libraries have a special role to assist the community in acquiring skills and knowledge, as well as to provide a place for the community to come together. According to The Evaluation and Measurement of Library Service a mission statement "should define what the library does and does not do, distinguish the organization from the competition .employ no buzzwords and lead to clear actions (Matthews, J.R., 2007, p. 29-30). Based on these guidelines, BPL should consider revising their statement to include more information. The current mission statement does not provide insight into the libraries products, customers, or collection.

To assist in successfully performing its mission, BPL and its Board of Trustees developed a five-year strategic plan identifying its goals and objectives for 2010-2015. The five goal areas identified include programming, funding, marketing & outreach, partnerships & networking, and internal organizational development. BPL realizes that change is important in meeting the needs of its community in the Information Age. In order to assure the library stays up-to-date they plan to conduct annual evaluations of programs and services, increase private and public funding, and "forge stronger linkages to the Bristol community and a deeper set of working partners" (Bristol Public Library, n.d.g). Part of meeting that need is providing appropriate programming for the community, this is why BPL has an objective of expanding its role within the community as an information center and enhancing its programs and services to assure they remain relevant. To assist in acquiring more funding the BPL set an objective to enhance its working relationship with the Library Board and the Foundation Board and to develop a budget that comprehensively meets its needs. In an effort to reach a wider audience within the community the BPL plans to develop a creative marketing plan and enhance outreach to the local youth. To increase the efficiency of the internal environment, BPL plans to study the roles of each component and ensure the library as a whole is properly organized to recognize and meet community needs (Bristol Public Library, n.d.g).

1.3 Provide an analysis of the PL in terms of its rationale, vision, market, offerings, and capabilities.

As expressed in their mission statement the primary focus of BPL is on enhancing its community by providing access to programs, collections, and services that are aimed at expanding the minds of the participants. To support this mission, BPL places a lot of emphasis on developing educational programs and services for the community youth, as well as keeping current on which areas the adult patrons need more assistance with. As previously mentioned, while BPL has a strong desire to enhance the quality of life of its community members, its mission statement does not provide a clear understanding to the reader of the library's offerings and capabilities. One of the essential roles that BPL provides to the community is the promotion of computer and information literacy via the Adult Learning Lab.

While not specifically labeled as a vision statement, on BPL's homepage directly, under the mission statement, states, "The Bristol Public Library in Bristol, Virginia takes an active role in the development of our city and community, providing residents a place to learn, read and meet -or just relax with the daily newspaper" (Bristol Public Library, n.d.c). Though this does not provide a clear vision for the future of BPL, the strategic plan developed by the Library Board and the staff members outlines its future goals. The strategic plan indicates BPL's vision of keeping services relevant to the community, as well as expanding the services offered, establishing stronger ties with its community members, and ensuring the library is properly organized to identify and meet the changing needs of community.

Bristol Public Libraries market includes residents of Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia. This includes a population of approximately 44,000 individuals. According to the United States Census Bureau (2014), the community is represented by the following demographics:

  • Persons under 18 years, 20.7%
  • Persons 65 years and over, 18.5%
  • Female persons, 52.7%
  • High school graduate or higher, 81.2%
  • Bachelor's degree or higher, 20.5%
  • Persons with a disability, under age 65 years, 15.2%
  • In civilian labor force, 55.8%
  • Median household income, $33,921
  • Persons in poverty, 19.7%

In order to effectively meet the needs of the community, the library offers several programs geared towards these demographics. For adults the library offers public access computers, meeting and study rooms, adult literacy and digital literacy sessions, as well as one-on-one sessions in the A.L.L. For children, the library offers a children's collection, story hours, and several children's programs. For young adults, the library offers a young adult collection, book clubs, and several teen and tween programs. The library also offers sessions for English as a second language, reference services, and interlibrary loan. As well as a physical collection of books, audiobooks, videos, and CD's and access to online databases. The library is currently performing focus group studies to determine what new offerings to make available through its Adult Learning Lab (J. Powers, personal communication, January 27, 2015).

To enhance the library's capabilities, a new facility was built in 2006. With the assistance of the Library Foundation's endowment fund approximately $40,000 per year is available to spend on capital improvements of the facility (Bristol Public Library, 2011, April 12). A very valuable resource within the BPL is a knowledgeable and well-trained staff. To continue offering the services and programs discussed, it is important for the library to continue its marketing efforts for funding and recruitment of volunteers. As noted in the 2011-2012 Annual Report, BPL has strong community participation which plays an important role in assisting the library in meeting its full potential (Bristol Public Library, 2012). Currently, the BPL is lacking in one primary resource area needed to expand its role as an information center within the community; a lack of teachers for the technology courses. Otherwise, the technology, space, and drive is alive and well.

1.4 Describe the vision statement of the PL. What are the various roles that it performs? What are the PL's various service responses.

As mentioned BPL does not have a vision statement. While the library has a strategic plan in place, the addition of a vision statement would be beneficial in communicating to users where the library is going. Based on the information provided on BPL's website and in the strategic plan a sample vision statement is: The Bristol Public Library aims to be a dynamic and innovative learning environment dedicated to empowering and enriching the local community. To reach this desired future, the library must seek to be forward-thinking, remain diverse in formats and services offered, supportive of professional development, and learn to anticipate and embrace the changing habits of its users.

Bristol Public Library provides many of the roles and service responses identified by Darlene E. Weingand (2001, p.8-9). BPL fulfills the role of a Reference Library by providing reference services (onsite, online, and by telephone) and access to print and online reference material. By providing collections for all age groups and educational programs directed towards expanding the minds of the community, the BPL acts as an Independent Learning Center by supporting the educational pursuits of its patrons. BPL is dedicated to developing an interest in learning and reading in the community youth. The BPL fulfills the Preschoolers' Door to Learning role by providing services for children of all age groups, as well as family programs and services.

As a community information center, the BPL provides business and career information, general and government information, community referrals, and local history and genealogical information. The library provides the following additional service responses: basic literacy (both youth and adult), information literacy (via one-on-one sessions in the Adult Learning Lab), formal learning support, lifelong learning, and acts as a commons to address the need of the community to meet and interact.

1.5 Develop a sample PL Values Statement

Currently, BPL does not have an official values statement. After reviewing the libraries mission statement and strategic plan the following value statement was created:

Bristol Public Library is committed to:

  • Promotion of lifelong learning and betterment of lives through library services and materials
  • Providing excellent customer service by fulfilling patron needs in a timely and respectful manner
  • Offering an environment that supports creativity and collaboration
  • Evolving to meet the changing needs of our community
  • Working diligently to exceed expectations

1.6 List various strategic aims of the PL and at least three specific library strategies in relation to potential services to improve

In order to develop the goals and objectives established in BPL's 2010-2015 Strategic Plan, the Library Board and staff collected input from library stakeholders and the general public. Strengths and weaknesses of the Library and its programs were analyzed and addressed. Community needs were evaluated and responses were prioritized" (Bristol Public Library, n.d.g). The BPL strategic plan outlined five areas to improve during the five year period: Programming, Funding, Marketing & Outreach, Partnerships & Networking, and Internal Organizational Development. BPL desires to keep its programming relevant and able to meet the changing needs of its community in the Information Age. In order to do this, the library must secure appropriate funding and establish effect marketing and outreach techniques. BPL exists to meet the needs of its community, during the 2010-2015 strategic plan BPL mentions their desire to perform more networking within the community to assure the programs are reflecting the community's needs. Lastly, BPL established a goal to improve the organization of the library to assure all aspects of the organization are functioning properly together.

In order to improve these service areas several strategies have been identified. One strategy BPL has been employing is the increased and more effective use of volunteers to assist with library programming. BPL has a high level of community participation, with funding for staff being a concern a heavier reliance on volunteers to lead library programs will allow the library to expand while keeping costs low. Another strategy identified to help improve services is the expansion of community participation in the library sub-committees. One tactic to be used is the establishment of a deeper set of working partners within the community. A third tactic is to increase community assessment by performing focus groups and surveys to identify unmet needs within the community. Currently, the primary focus of the third tactic is to identify new services to offer in the Adult Learning Lab (Bristol Public Library, n.d.g).

1.7 If you could develop/extend one PL service to help this organization to be more helpful, what would it be? Why?

Bristol Public Library is currently in the process of reassessing its Adult Learning Lab. The lab began life as a GED tutoring center, however, due to recent changes in the GED process the needs of the community need to be analyzed to identify the best way to utilize the lab moving forward (J. Powers, Personal communication, 2015, January 26). The A.L.L. was established in 1987 and has since been dedicated to providing "instruction for lifelong learning" (Bristol Public Library, n.d.b). Currently, the lab offers assistance with GED preparation, reading, writing, and math skills, computer skills, resume writing, military tests, English as a second language, and college entrance exams.

BPL is located in a rural community in the Appalachian region, an area in great need of assistance with development of digital literacy skills. To provide the highest quality service, the A.L.L. assigns each new student in the program an individualized educational program specific to their needs (Enis, M., 2012, August 6). The strength of the A.L.L. is the flexible, one-on-one service it provides to the community members. The current weakness is a need for funding to hire additional teachers to keep the lab staffed throughout the week. With more staff, the lab could also provide more advanced services. As was previously mentioned, it would be beneficial for BPL to look into developing a partnership with the Sullivan County Broadband Committee as a possible source of funding since both organizations have a goal of improving digital literacy education in the area. This project will evaluate the services currently offered by the A.L.L. and identify new community needs that could be served by the lab.


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Spring 2015

Contact K.C. Williams

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