The Contra Costa County Library is asking its patrons to speak up about their local branches and participate in a birthday party as the library's centennial comes to a close.

"We are working on the next generation of our strategic plan," said Bill Kolb, senior community library manager in Concord. "One of our approaches is to ask people what they think we are doing well and not doing well."

People are encouraged to take the online questionnaire that is available on the county library's website until the end of July. In August, the myriad town hall meetings with county librarian Barbara Flynn and city council members will begin.

"We are really excited about this," said Flynn. "It's going to be a lot of work. We will be meeting at least three times a week so we can really connect with the communities."

She said the current strategic plan was put together with data gathered in 2005, but "in 2008, the world changed. There is a better than average chance people's needs changed."

Flynn said in 2008 the monetary state of the country started to collapse.

"What was happening here was happening in Europe. It really got scary."

She noted that whenever she says this at public meetings, heads begin nodding in agreement. The library is a central part of the community and must provide for the changed needs of the people.

In addition to the online questionnaire and the town hall meetings, librarians from all the branches will be conducting "key informant" interviews. Kolb said the key informants are a list of leaders representing businesses, schools, nonprofits, government and libraries in each community.

Concord City Councilman Edi Birsan, president of the Concord Friends of the Library and a member of Concord-Diablo Rotary, is one of the many key informants for the Concord Library.

"I think it's great the county library is reaching out to people throughout the community at all different levels," said Concord City Councilman Edi Birsan. "This is one of the reasons I think the Contra Costa Library was nationally recognized."

Birsan said he would like to see the Concord facility physically expanded. Concord is the largest city in the county and has one of the smallest libraries serving the entire population.

"We get over 240,000 people coming through the doors," Birsan said. "During the recession, library use shot up."

He said there were plans made during the 1990s to expand the small building, but by 2005 it didn't look like the economy would support it. The library did, however, get computer upgrades.

"Libraries are still a central research place, a central place to get books and computer access," Birsan said. "Not everybody has computer access at home; not everybody has a home."

Along with providing computer access, the library provides periodicals, various reports and all government documents. It also provides many community events and programs designed to get kids reading early and teaching adults who can't read as well as "how to" workshops for finding jobs, or filling out applications.

The Concord Friends of the Library donates between $10,000 and $20,000 a year to the library, and when the economy tanked, the city of Concord stepped in with funding to help keep the library open seven days a week.

"Concord government has always been supportive of the library," Birsan said.

Karen Hansen-Smith, senior community library manager for both the Martinez and Clayton libraries said, "I have started confirming interviews. I am hoping we get lots of responses."

Brown-Miller Communications, Inc. of Martinez was instrumental in putting the outreach plan together and will be helping crunch the numbers when all the data has been collected which will be by end of September. The draft strategic plan should be ready by mid-October.

Part of the data assessment will be looking at each community's priority response so the strategic plan used going forward will be individually tailored.

"We are trying to avoid 'one size fits all,'" Kolb said.

your two cents
WHAT: Contra Costa County Library survey and strategic town hall planning meetings
WHERE: Survey online; planning meetings at Concord Library Concord Community Room, 2900 Salvio St., and Clayton Library Community Room, 6125 Clayton Road
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Aug. 7 in Concord; and 7 p.m. Aug. 8, in Clayton
INFORMATION: www.ccclib.org