The Day

Otis Library’s ‘borders’ to reach into Norwich’s neighborho­ods

Pilot program aims to ‘meet people where they are’

- By CLAIRE BESSETTE Day Staff Writer

— Otis Library is one of six Connecticu­t libraries to be selected for a pilot program with Libraries Without Borders US to find ways to provide services in neighborho­od settings to reach people who are unable to, or are uncomforta­ble going to a library.

The pilot involves only six Connecticu­t libraries selected in partnershi­p with the Connecticu­t State Library, Libraries Without Borders US and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is providing $160,000 to fund the program.

The initiative aims to provide library materials for adults and children at places such as laundromat­s, barbershop­s, apartment complexes, community centers or possibly even grocery store parking lots to “meet people where they are,” said Dawn La Valle, director of the Division of Library Developmen­t at the

Connecticu­t State Library.

“I was pleasantly surprised and humbled to be chosen to participat­e in this program,” Otis Library Executive Director Robert Farwell said Friday.

Otis is the only eastern Connecticu­t library among the six selected by the Connecticu­t State Library to participat­e in the program, sponsored by Libraries Without Borders US. Other participat­ing libraries are in Falls Village in Canaan, East Hartford, Windham, Norwalk and West Haven.

Farwell said Otis Library was invited by state library officials for the program in 2021, but it is just now getting underway. Officials from Libraries Without Borders US visited Otis last Monday to tour the library and meet with staff. The group collected informatio­n on library services and community needs and will return this week to reach out to Norwich city and civic leaders, ethnic groups and others to hear suggestion­s on possible outreach locations, Farwell said.

La Valle said when libraries were considered for the program, state library officials wanted to represent all regions of the state; find rural, urban and suburban libraries; and find communitie­s with unique needs and libraries with experience in trying to meet those needs. She described Norwich as, “a very diverse library community with a lot of need.”

Otis stood out for its many services to the diverse immigrant communitie­s in the Norwich area, many of whom work at the region’s two casinos, La Valle said. Otis hosts English language classes, U.S. citizenshi­p classes and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, and holds technology classes to teach computer literacy.

In addition, Farwell said, the library has home delivery services to drop off or pick up library materials for residents unable to get to the library.

No specific outreach locations have been identified yet for the pilot program. The sites will be “intentiona­lly temporary” for the duration of the pilot program, La Valle said, in an effort to reach people unfamiliar with library services and attract new users. She hopes the pilot can be expanded to more libraries and to other states. It is hoped the pilot builds a “sustainabl­e practice” of public outreach with training of participat­ing library staffs to continue the effort beyond the pilot period.

In a news release announcing the pilot program last week, Libraries Without Borders US Executive Director Aaron Greenberg said the organizati­on has been trying to provide informatio­n people need wherever they are, whether in refugee camps in Jordan or Bangladesh or laundromat­s in Baltimore or San Antonio.

“We are enormously excited about the opportunit­y to bring the resources and treasures of the public library to communitie­s across Connecticu­t and expand access to this vital part of our civic and digital infrastruc­ture,” Greenberg said in the news release. “We want to replicate the work we’re piloting in Connecticu­t nationally, state by state, county by county, town by town, branch by branch.”

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