Meeting the Needs of Member Libraries and the Communities They Serve

Posted by Sara Dallas on May 31, 2017 at 2:46 PM

The Southern Adirondack Library System (SALS) is a cooperative system with 34 member libraries serving a four-county area – Saratoga, Warren, Washington and Hamilton counties – in New York. Each library has its own budget, board and policies. The smallest community library in the cooperative serves a population of 114, and the largest serves a population of 58,000.

SALS provides connections and resources to small and rural libraries that enable them to take steps to engage their communities and to develop plans and programming based on needs rather than what’s always been done. 


Library: Multi-library cooperative system | Location: Saratoga Springs, NY | Budget: $2.6 million for the cooperative – individual libraries have their own budgets and boards | Funding: local, state, federal support and grants  | Population: 114 to 58,000 | Hamilton County - White: 97.3%, Hispanic: 1.5%,  Black: 1.5% | Washington County – White: 94.5%, Black: 3.4%, Hispanic:  2.6% | Warren County – White: 96.5%, Black: 1.3%, Hispanic: 2.3% | Saratoga County – White: 93.6%, Black: 1.8%, Hispanic: 3.1% | Budget: $2.6 million for the cooperative – individual libraries have their own budgets and boards | Funding: Local, state, federal support and grants  

The work that SALS is doing on behalf of its member libraries incorporates the model discussed in The Aspen Institute report, Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries.

“I’m very fortunate, because I get to work with our member libraries on developing budget referendums and strategic plans – something that I love to do,” says Erica Freudenberger, outreach and engagement consultant, Southern Adirondack Library System. “In order to align our library services with community priorities, we begin using the Aspen model of starting with the appreciative inquiry exercises, and we integrate some of the Harwood tools as well. We then incorporate community engagement trainings as part of the community-based plan. Once our member libraries do the community engagement training, they can go out and gather information from the public, and that helps to inform the decisions they make moving forward.”

The SALS approach is currently being piloted with the Hadley-Luzerne Public Library that serves a population of 5,395 individuals in Lake Luzerne, NY. “The library is in the middle of leadership transition and delayed their budget referendum for a year so that they could do this work first,” explains Freudenberger. “They understand its importance, and this is a library operating with less than $104,000.”

The library, like most in the SALS cooperative, is in a building not originally constructed to be a library.

“And when we talk about the library as place,” says Sara Dallas, director, Southern Adirondack Library System, “SALS was able to get Hadley-Luzerne a grant to have an architect come in and look at the space and try to change the feel of the library.”

Making changes to the physical space is a necessity for many libraries as they respond to community needs and the changing technological landscape.

“Many of these libraries are in old homes and other places, so there are some challenges with the space,” Freudenberger says. “Providing libraries with the funds to have architects look at the buildings and address the space based on what a 21st century library looks like is so important. And, it’s not just Hadley-Luzerne that we’ve done this for. There was a whole series of grants that we gave out so that people could do things like install electrical outlets or update wiring so that they could provide 21st century services for their communities.”

SALS develops community plans for member libraries based on community needs. Member feedback revealed a big need in the areas of education and early childhood, Jennifer Ferriss, a 17-year SALS employee, transitioned into the role of assistant director, community liaison & youth services consultant, in mid-2015.

“A lot of our member libraries want to be community focused, but their librarians are only working 20 hours a week or less sometimes. So, they don’t have the bandwidth to do this,” explains Ferriss. “While our librarians are completely dedicated to running an excellent library, many have a second job to offset the 20 hours a week that they put in at the library. My job is to go out into the community and make connections for them. I meet people in the strangest places. I learn what they do, and then we start finding common ground and begin to talk about how we can work together.”

Ferriss is making good use of deploying existing resources to meet community needs. The New York State Division of Library Development’s Ready to Read at New York Libraries is an early literacy initiative that will enable all children to enter kindergarten with the skills for success. The state received a three-year IMLS grant to implement the initiative and as a trainer, Ferriss is implementing the train-the-trainer model with the SALS member libraries.

One of the five components of the program is Early Learning Spaces. “I had a workshop in February that I used for the Early Learning Spaces component,” says Ferriss. “I had someone from the Child Care Network talk about the eco-healthy child and how to keep our spaces clean and safe and toxic free for children. We then did a site visit to Habitat for Humanity so that our librarians could learn how hard it is to get people to apply for Habitat homes. Exposing them to the process provides them with resource knowledge to help more individuals apply. And, the summer reading theme this year is Building a Better Community, so the visit tied in perfectly. Several SALS member libraries are interested in helping out over the summer with their teens, adults and staff to work with Habitat either providing meals during lunch or learning how to use a tool and helping build a building.”

Developing partnerships and collaborations with agencies or other organizations helps to contribute to efficiencies and create more opportunities. “We have a New York State Adult Literacy Grant that focuses on workforce development,” Freudenberger says. “We created our Libraries Mean Business initiative with those funds. We’ve partnered with the Chambers of Commerce, the Economic Development Councils, Cornell Cooperative Extension, SUNY Adirondack and other interested stakeholders, to identify the needs of the business community and to develop workshops that build skills, identify resources and position our member libraries as business accelerators and business incubators.

The small and rural nature of SALS member libraries requires them to be nimble and adjust to meet emerging needs – even setting up as a dress shop.

“The Argyle Free Library serves a population of 3,782. They just hired a new library director, and she saw a need in the community,” says Dallas. “It’s not a wealthy community by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s very rural and isolated. Prom season is coming up, and she got people to donate prom gowns, and transformed the library into a dress shop complete with a seamstress. So, anyone with the need for a prom dress could have one. I might add, this is a library that gets only $39,400 in local public funds.”

The community based planning that is a major focus of the work that SALS is doing with member libraries is helping them to build capacity. Until then, the SALS team is on hand to provide support in both large and small ways.

As Dallas sums up, “We’re probably doing really simple things, but we just keep building on them. And then they build on themselves. More and more things seem to dovetail. And, the work becomes that much deeper, and the impact that much greater.”

Sara Dallas
Southern Adirondack Library System, New York

Erica Freudenberger
Outreach and Engagement Consultant
Southern Adirondack Library System, New York

Jennifer Ferriss
Assistant Director, Community Liaison & Youth Services Consultant
Southern Adirondack Library System, New York

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