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Community Conversations Recap: Ballard Branch - Oct. 7

What are we hearing at the City Librarian's Community Conversations?


Background: City Librarian Marcellus Turner has invited Library patrons to join him at informal meetings in libraries across the city to talk about service improvements. The fourth of 12 Community Conversations was held at the Ballard Branch from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. Monday, Oct. 7.


Recap: Turner first shared information about increased Library hours, collections, technology and building maintenance made possible by the 2012 voter-approved Library levy. He also discussed the Library's five current service priorities: youth and learning, technology and access, community engagement, Seattle culture and history and "re-imagined spaces," which he described as redesigning service areas to accommodate changing patron needs. Turner spent the majority of time listening to suggestions and answering questions from the public. He reserved the last 15 minutes for getting input on the five service priorities. Outlined below is the Q&A in brief, followed by highlights of the service priority discussion.

Questions and Answers:


You currently offer basic computer classes for programs like Microsoft Excel. Will you offer more advanced computer classes?


Yes. Starting later in November, patrons of The Seattle Public Library will have access to more than 1,500 online classes covering everything from using Microsoft Word to advanced IT skills. The classes are offered through the Microsoft IT Academy and are funded by the Washington State Library. Whether you want to upgrade your computer skills for work, home or school, the IT Academy can assist. All course material and e-book content will be accessible online from anywhere with an Internet connection.
In addition, the Library currently offers in-person “tech help” sessions at the Ballard Branch, as well as other Library locations. Check the Library’s online calendar for dates and how to register for these one-on-one trainings with a librarian. In addition, online tutorials that provide computer instruction are available through the Library’s website.


If we have a suggestion for a speaker to present at the Library, who should we talk to?


Start by talking with a staff member at your local library. That staff member will put you in touch with the appropriate manager to discuss your request with. You may also send program suggestions by email to: programmingquery@spl.org. A new community engagement manager will join the Library next year to help us develop our programming offerings.


What kind of outreach do you do in the community? Do you try to partner with other organizations to provide programs at locations that are not in libraries?


The Library uses many communication channels to keep patrons informed about Library services and to receive feedback. The Library stays engaged with patrons through its website, email notices, surveys, E-News (the Library’s electronic newsletter), media stories, local blogs, fliers, Twitter, Facebook, local festivals, community events and Library meetings like this one. In addition, Library staff members are often out in the community making visits to schools, retirement homes, neighborhood events and more. We also have an Outreach Department that offers additional support to underserved populations.
The Library is able to provide enhanced services and programs through its partnerships with cultural and educational organizations, local businesses, nonprofits and government agencies. The Library has a position dedicated specifically to developing partnership opportunities in the community. Some of our partners include the Seattle Opera, Pacific Northwest Ballet, United Way, WorkSource, KEXP, The Seattle Times, Seattle Public Schools and the Seattle-King County Public Health.


Ballard is a large area comprised of several neighborhoods, including Loyal Heights, Crown Hill, and Sunset Heights. How do you capture the interests of the “greater” Ballard community?  


As noted earlier, the Library is continually communicating with patrons about services and asking for feedback and how we can serve them better. If you believe there are other issues you would like to raise, please email the city librarian at: citylibrarian@spl.org.


Ballard is a multi-faceted community. Could the Library support a project to document the diverse community that Ballard is now? Perhaps a photography exhibit? 


The Ballard Branch is always open to supporting community projects, such as a local photography exhibit. The branch currently hosts an annual art show in conjunction with Ballard High School students that includes photography, video, music, and other types of art.


Not everyone can make it to the Central Library for a program. Is there any way to stream programs from the Central Library to the branch libraries?


Currently, many author programs presented at the Central Library are available via podcasts. The archive of programs goes back to 2006. In terms of live streaming of programs, we are interested in exploring this in 2014. Specifically, we will determine the technical requirements and permissions required to pilot live streaming of programs.


Can you provide more bike racks at the Ballard Branch?


Yes. We are aware of the need for more bike racks at the Ballard Branch. Work is currently under way to determine the best location and the type of rack needed. The project will be completed in 2014.


I live in Crown Hill. Can the Library place a drop box for returns in my community?


In 2014, we will conduct a preliminary analysis of alternative service delivery opportunities for underserved neighborhoods. We will certainly add this suggestion to our list.


Where does the Ballard Branch rate in the Library system in terms of use?


The Ballard Branch is the second busiest branch in terms of circulation and the busiest branch in terms of patron visits.


Do you staff branch libraries based on use? Does a busier library get more staff?


During the lean budget years, Library staffing was reduced across the system. With the passage of the Library levy, additional staff was added to support new open hours. The Library’s regional managers look at hours, use and need across local regions to determine how best to allocate staff to meet needs of their region. (Ballard is in the mid-city west region, which includes the Ballard, Queen Anne, Fremont and Magnolia branches.)


Have you considered using volunteers to provide programming at the Library – especially when you might otherwise have to cancel a class or story time?


The Library is fortunate to have a wonderful cohort of committed volunteers. Volunteers currently provide homework help at 11 branches, staff the welcome desks at the Central Library, support special events, mend books, garden, facilitate book groups, facilitate Talk Time conversation classes for immigrants and refugees and much more. In fact, last year, nearly 500 volunteers – including 90 high school students – contributed over 19,000 hours of their time to helping the Library. We continue to seek opportunities that allow volunteers to support the professional work of our Library staff.


Can you add a visual aid at the entrance so we know where the books, materials and meeting spaces are in branch libraries?


This is a great suggestion. Stephen Halsey, the Library’s new director of marketing and online services, is currently evaluating our signage and we will share your suggestion with him.


Can we recommend a book for the Library to purchase?


Yes. Currently, the Library receives an average of 1,800 purchase suggestions each month. To make a recommendation, you can visit the Library’s website.

Five service priorities:

Technology and Access, Community Engagement and Re-Imagined Spaces were identified as the three most important priorities to participants.


Suggestions around Technology and Access:

  • Seniors need more help and training on technology. Provide services at senior centers.
  • Consider having teens teach seniors about technology.
  • We need more simple instructions for using Overdrive and navigating between it and the Library’s website.
  • Provide computers in the teen area at the Ballard Branch.


Suggestions around Community Engagement:

  • Provide simulcast of Central Library programs and events at the branches.
  • Provide live streaming of programs online.
  • Allow students to receive school or college credits for teaching programs or providing tutoring.
  • Provide “human libraries” – subject experts available for check out at your local library.
  • Connect with the Nordic Heritage Museum to provide joint programming.


Suggestions around Re-Imagined Spaces:

  • Provide space for food vendors.
  • Provide more comfortable seating in the teen area.
  • Consider providing maker spaces.