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Athenaeum seeks to solidify its long-term future

Date: 6/7/2013

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD — The Westfield Athenaeum will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2014 and with that will come a renewed dedication to the organization's service to the community, according to Christopher Lindquist, director of the Athenaeum.

The 2012-2013 Strategic Plan outlines the mission of the Athenaeum, "To enrich the community of Westfield by providing open access to educational, cultural, recreational and informational resources and programs. Lindquist recited the newly created slogan of the library, "Experience your world at the Athenaeum."

To uphold these ideals, the Strategic Plan was structured to get results, Lindquist said. He explained that a Strategic Plan Committee of members from the Athenaeum's Board of Directors, library employees and community members developed the plan. In addition, a survey of current cardholders and non-cardholders prior to drafting the plan to ensure that it satisfied their likes and needs.

Focus groups were also conducted with populations such as seniors and teens.

Lindquist explained both an online and hard copy of the survey was made available to ensure that a "cross-section of the entire community" was surveyed. In total, 864 surveys were received with 341 of them from Survey Monkey.

According to Lindquist, the Athenaeum loans 300,000 items a year and serves 500 to 600 patrons per day, equating to approximately 200,000 annually. "Each individual has his or her own interests to explore," he said.

"I was pleasantly surprised by the response," he said, adding that the Athenaeum plans to conduct an annual survey because "libraries are changing due to the mobile culture we're in." Lindquist described the transition, stating that libraries were more like multipurpose community centers in the current atmosphere.

The main requests from the survey were for a café with a sitting area where patrons could enjoy a cup of coffee and better parking. Lindquist stated that the library plans to start small by offering vending machines until a café can be established.

He said parking has been a longstanding issue and that the Athenaeum will collaborate with city officials to develop the most effective plan for improved and expanded parking.

The Strategic Plan outlines four main service goals for the Athenaeum: To create a comfortable space that is physically accommodating and virtually user-friendly; to inspire readership by stimulating imagination and opportunities of exploration; to provide access to genealogical services and historical resources; and to practice fiscal responsibility to sustain the library's future.

Lindquist said that approximately one-third of the budget was from private sources including endowment funds, The Friends of the Library and revenue from the fines and fees. The remaining two-thirds is supplied from the city budget.

The library owns and houses a collection of numerous historical objects and paper items dating back to the 1700s that represent the whip industry, mechanization of the city and the bicycles of Columbia Manufacturing Inc.

Lindquist would like to create interactive exhibits to showcase the items and to create a deeper connection with patrons. He is inspired by the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford. He described the exhibits as "dynamic, with an abundance of graphic content."

"The book is not going away," Lindquist stressed, but the collection needs to be expanded to offer modes such as MP3 files to meet the diverse needs of cardholders.