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.

In addition to throwing a party for the community, the library is conducting surveys through an online questionnaire, personal interviews and town hall meetings in every city, town and municipal advisory council in the county.

"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 the month. 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.

"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."

"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.

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.

feedback sought
Put in your two two cents' worth about library programs, activities, services, operating hours and more by taking the Contra Costa County Library survey, available online through the end of July. Go to www.ccclib.org.