The Public Library: A Place to Learn, Share and Create

The Public Library: A Place to Learn, Share and Create


Branford's James Blackstone Memorial Library.

At Branford’s Blackstone Library, computer studios with video-editing software are available for anyone interested in filmmaking. Nearby, a local musician has designed and crafted a tuning device for a lute on a three-dimensional printer. And in another area, a bank of sewing machines is used for sewing classes.

While books remain the biggest reason visitors come to Blackstone, the library offers a broad menu of other resources and programs that support the pursuit of information and knowledge. And it has been doing so for a long time. When the marble-columned building opened in 1896, it included an assembly hall for public lectures and events and the second floor held display cases with historical objects from Branford’s past and specimens of natural history for visitors to study.

Blackstone and other libraries throughout Greater New Haven and the country have remained relevant by evolving to meet the needs of the community. They embody the mindset promoted by “Libraries Transform,” the American Library Association’s campaign that states: “more than just quiet places to do research, find a book, and read . . . libraries are centers of their communities: places to learn, create, and share.” And the public is responding with enthusiasm.

The Numbers


  • Annual library visits in Greater New Haven increased by 22 percent from 2002 to 2015.1
  • 20.7 million people visited a public library in Connecticut in 2016. 2
  • Connecticut libraries received 5.6 visits per capita in 2016.3
  • Two million people attended library programs in Connecticut in 2016.4

A Community Resource 


The library's role as a space for self-education has helped shape the careers of many great American successes, such as the late Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson.

Most Americans agree that libraries are important places in the community and have the resources they need, according to the Pew Research Center’s annual report on libraries. This view is evident at the New Haven Free Public Library, where a line forms at the Ives Main Branch before the doors open in the morning. Each floor is a hub of activity nearly all day long, from children’s programs on the second floor to the banks of computers and teen center on the ground floor.

“Libraries are one of the last remaining truly democratic and open public institutions,” says New Haven Free Public Library Executive Director Martha Brogan. “To adapt a saying from one of my colleagues in another city, ‘I’m not in the library business; I’m in the New Haven business.’”

Partnering with community organizations is one of the ways New Haven and libraries throughout the region are able to offer a wide selection of programs. At Ives, New Haven’s downtown branch, a staff person from the local nonprofit Liberty Community Services is available six days a week to provide counseling and guidance to people needing housing services. New Haven Legal Assistance offers a clinic on naturalization and the Literacy Volunteers of Greater New Haven holds an English as a Second Language conversation group.


The teen center at the New Haven Public Library's Ives Main Branch 

Brogan notes that many people visit the library at times of life transitions, such as searching for a new job, starting a new business, preparing for a new baby or buying a house. The information sought might be in a book, but could also be found on a computer, in a class or from another library user. Data tracking library usage supports this idea, as per capita library visits in Connecticut rose following the recession starting in 2008.  

The library’s role as a space for self-education and life-long learning has helped shape the careers of many great Americans, such as the late Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson. Libraries throughout the region are helping to support life-long learning and skill-building for the 21st century economy by reimagining their spaces. 

New Haven plans to transform part of the first floor into a creative space called Innovation Commons on the Green. The plan envisions a space that attracts entrepreneurs, designers, artists, civic leaders and inventors to develop ideas, experiment and share.  

“We are the original coworking space,” Brogan says. 


A visitor to Blackstone Library's MakerLab designs and creates on a 3D printer.

Heavy usage of Madison’s Scranton Memorial Library has the town embarking on an ambitious plan to double its footprint, adding much needed flexible space.

“There is a lot more use of the library as community gathering space and for people coming here and needing a place to work,” says Library Director Beth Crowley. 

Blackstone Library is also planning a renovation to better accommodate community needs. 

“The library has always been a community gathering space and a cultural center,” says Library Director Karen Jensen.  

Still a Place for Books

Libraries have been changing rapidly since the rise of the digital age. Yet, while a majority of people look to their libraries for access to free computers, broadband internet and classes in digital skills, the traditional activities of checking out printed books and finding a quiet place to read or sit remain the most popular reason for library visits.5 

“Circulating books and leisure reading are still in high demand,” says Crowley, of Madison. “You can go inside and be anonymous. You can interact with us if you want to. But librarians have a strong respect for privacy.” 

What The Community Foundation is Doing 

Grants and Activity:

  • In 2017, The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven partnered with Yale Law School, the United Church of Christ, the New Haven Free Public Library and other organizations to bring a replica of a solitary confinement cell to the Ives Main Branch. The project, Inside the Box, includes community discussions around the problem of solitary confinement in the prison system. 
  • A 2015 grant to the New Haven Free Public Library Foundation supported the creation of a new library service model to deliver both core and innovative services to the Dixwell/Newhallville neighborhoods.  
  • A Valley Community Foundation grant in 2015 to the Derby Neck Library Association supported new furniture, repairs and renovations to the Children’s Room at the Derby Neck Library.
  • A 2016 grant to the Institute Library in New Haven supports the poetry program, The Word. 
  • A grant to the New Haven Free Public Library Foundation in 2012 supported the creation of a strategic plan using a Community Needs Assessment study which assessed community perceptions of the library and its services, unmet community needs and the level of support for increased funding and expanded facilities, programs, services and collections.

The Community Foundation for  Greater New Haven manages the endowments of several libraries in the region including:

  • New Haven Free Public Library Endowment
  • Friends of the New Haven Free Public Library Fund
  • Derby Public Library Endowment
  • Plumb Library Reserve Fund

Works Cited

1. Abraham, Mark and Mary Buchanan. (2016). Greater New Haven Community Wellbeing Index. New Haven, CT: DataHaven; 60.

2.  "LibGuides: Statistics for Connecticut Public Libraries: Annual Report." Annual Report - Statistics for Connecticut Public Libraries - LibGuides at Connecticut State Library, Division of Library Development. Accessed January 23, 2017. http://libguides.ctstatelibrary.org/dld/stats/annreport.

3.  "LibGuides: Statistics for Connecticut Public Libraries: Connecticut Public Library Statistical Trends, 2001 - 2016." Connecticut Public Library Statistical Trends, 2001 - 2016 - Statistics for Connecticut Public Libraries - LibGuides at Connecticut State Library, Division of Library Development. Accessed January 23, 2017. http://libguides.ctstatelibrary.org/dld/stats/datavisual/ctdatatrends.

4.  "LibGuides: Statistics for Connecticut Public Libraries: Annual Report." Annual Report - Statistics for Connecticut Public Libraries - LibGuides at Connecticut State Library, Division of Library Development. Accessed January 23, 2017. http://libguides.ctstatelibrary.org/dld/stats/annreport.

5.  Horrigan, John B. "Libraries 2016." Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. September 09, 2016. Accessed January 23, 2017. http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/09/09/libraries-2016/.



© The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
January 2017

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