President Malissa Ruffner opened the meeting by noting that this was the first in-person meeting in three years and then introduced guest speakers David Payne, Chief of Neighborhood Library Services (and former Interim Hamilton Branch Manager), and Gabby Miller, our current Branch Manager.
Gabby gave a comprehensive update of the branch’s programming, with a strong emphasis on the branch’s outreach to young library users. The branch is a significant afterschool resource for students, particularly middle school and older elementary students, and there can be anywhere from twenty to fifty enthusiastic students coming to the library after school. To accommodate their needs and those of other library users, Gabby and her team have focused on providing a safe, interesting, and responsive space. Rules concerning food and drink have been established (no eating in the library at all, and only drinks with flat lids are allowed), and the kids have responded well to the new policy. The branch has also hired Miss Melissa, Tween librarian (the first in the EPFL system), to focus on programming and resources for nine to twelve-year-old students--the largest population of students using the library. A new Young Adult librarian will join the staff in December, and Miss Carrie continues her excellent work with children under 8 years old, including story hours on Wednesday and Friday mornings. Gabby and her team are planning a wide variety of programs, but are also making sure that resources are available for more spontaneous group projects.
In addition to these in-library programs and services, Gabby has developed connections with area schools. She is in contact with the principals, and the schools have also been using the library as a resource for students. At a member’s suggestion, Gabby will also reach out to local pre-schools—she is a huge believer in partnerships, and is eager to build connections in the community.
Gabby is also the Adult Librarian, and is working on programs for adult users, including karaoke, crafts, and a book club. Book club meets on the third Thursday of the month; the January book is The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett.
In response to members’ questions about social workers and tutors in the library, Gabby and David affirmed the branch’s commitment to meeting community needs and helping users are able to access relevant services easily and effectively. For example, David explained that currently there is one full-time Pratt staff member who coordinates the social worker interns (including a student who comes to Hamilton branch). He wants to expand those services for the branches in the New Year. He also wants to expand the lawyer in the library program, and he is currently in negotiation with UMD’s School of Nursing to have student nurses act as health counselors. The branch has partnered with Morgan State University to provide homework help, but that encountered a few obstacles (transportation being one, but one of the MSU participants has become very involved with the library, and helps with afterschool programming. David noted the possibility of partnering next year with Volunteer Maryland to coordinate volunteers and lead afterschool programs.
David provided a report on how the EPFL System and the branches are making the transition from Covid restrictions and raising their profiles. In a way, Covid provided new opportunities for the library to reflect on how best to fulfill its mission of community service. For example, all branches had to look at space and how it’s used, both inside and outside the building. The renovation of the courtyard at Hamilton was an excellent example of developing new space outdoors, and the system as a whole will be focusing on how to use outdoor space to meet users’ needs.
The pandemic also forced a closer examination of digital connections to patrons. As a result, the EPFL provided and enhanced its Wi-Fi services, and made them more accessible. The system also made laptops more available and is in the process of providing hundreds more laptops and hotspots available to library users. At the same time, use of library PCs has decreased, raising the question if so many are needed, and could the space they take up be put to better use (for example, providing space for laptop users and more outlets for charging phones and laptops).
The system is also looking at other ways to meet community needs. For example, in addition to talks with UMD about health counselors, David is also in discussions with the City about providing housing counselors. The System is also committed to enhancing branches, which are all aging and in need of varying degrees of renovation.
In response to members’ questions, David and Karen Brooks, Deputy Chief of Neighborhood Library Services, affirmed that there is software available through the EPFL website for learning English as a Second Language. He also reported that the library is working closely with City schools to support and develop services for adult and childhood literacy.
After thanking David and Gabby, and with a quorum of members of present, Malissa opened the business meeting. In her report, she outlined the Board’s goals to raise the Friends’ visibility, increase membership, and raise the branch’s profile. To reach these goals, the Friends held book sales at the Lauraville Fair and the Tuesday Farmers Markets. The Board also partnered with Snug Books to highlight Banned Books Week: we offered a $5 voucher to Snug for a $15 membership, and Snug donated 5% of their sales that week to the Friends. The largest amount of money spent was on the tree pits, which will help beautify the branch and make it more appealing. Now that Covid restrictions are over, the Board wants to plan more events to complement library activities. One member asked for information about volunteering; the Board agreed to communicate more directly about those needs. Finally, Malissa noted that the Board focused on drafting new Bylaws, and that Derek Simmonsen did a great job of leading this effort.
Derek then went over the proposed Bylaws, noting that they are straightforward, transparent, and designed to give the Board the flexibility to fulfill the Friends’ mission. In response to members’ questions and suggestions, Derek affirmed that there is sufficient flexibility in the Bylaws to allow the Board to create committees and name chairs, recruit a Youth member, and set January 1 as the date for renewal of dues, some of the suggestions brought forth. There was agreement that it would be a good idea to have a Membership Committee and a Gardening Committee in addition to the Nominating Committee.
After discussion ended, a motion to accept the Bylaws was made, seconded, and passed unanimously by a show of hands.
The meeting was adjourned.
Secretary, Friends of the Hamilton Branch Library