CONCORD -- Residents here strongly support the library and believe its most important contribution to the community is free, open access to information.
That was one finding from the conversations Contra Costa County Library staffers had with residents last year as part of the strategic planning process.
In a recent presentation to the City Council, deputy county librarian Gail McPartland, described the strategic planning process library staff began in 2012. By last spring, the staff decided they needed to engage the community as well.
Through 278 one-on-one interviews with library patrons, surveys and town hall meetings across the county, the library staff sought answers to three key questions -- what does the library do well, what can it be doing better and whom should the library partner with, McPartland said.
"We learned that our community is very much engaged in our library," she said.
Overall, county residents said they enjoyed the library's programs, including story time and author visits, and help signing up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. People also praised the knowledgeable, friendly and helpful library staffers.
People also have a deep, emotional connection to the library that goes beyond the books that McPartland dubbed the "evocative library." It holds, she said, a special place in people's hearts as the place they learned to read or received help with a job application.
Perhaps not surprisingly, county residents said they want more of everything the library has to offer -- books, computers, e-books, places to sit and hours.
Library staffers interviewed 11 Concord residents who said they believe the library is the gateway to literacy, plays an important role in workforce development and fosters a love of reading. They would like more library hours and a new facility, McPartland said.
Among the 303 Concord residents surveyed, the opportunity to borrow books and materials, discover new authors and use computers were top reasons for visiting the library, McPartland said. Concord residents also gave the library high marks for availability of materials, convenience to home, cleanliness, hours and service.
The twenty-three people who attended the Concord town hall meeting in August identified three priorities for the library -- continuing to reinforce literacy, education; and communication and collaboration with partners in the city and beyond. They asked for advocacy for funding, help with technology and more computers and books.
The draft strategic plan is moving toward ratification and staffers will use the data collected during the process to develop service plans specific to each library which will be introduced beginning in July, McPartland said.
For all the things the library does well, many patrons who shared their impressions said the library doesn't do enough to market its programs and services.
"We like what you do, but you are the best kept secret there is," county residents said, according to McPartland. "You guys have to learn how to market yourselves, you have to learn to promote yourselves. You do good work, nobody knows about it."
To that end, Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister encouraged library staff to regularly take advantage of the public comment period at council meetings to promote new programs and activities, work with community groups and set up a booth at the farmers market.
Councilman Ron Leone agreed that the library has great staff, programs and materials.
"My dream is that one of these days we could match that with a great new facility," he added.
"That is our dream for Concord, too," McPartland said.
Lisa P. White covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.
To see the full survey results, visit the Contra Costa County Library library website at ccclib.org.