Hartford Library Closings Delayed For Extended Transition Period

The Hartford Public Library announced a major development in its restructuring plan late Wednesday: delaying the impending closure of three branches by four months.

The Blue Hills, Goodwin and Mark Twain branches were scheduled to close Sept. 5, as announced by library officials last month. But amid a backlash from residents and city officials, the library board altered its plan to include a four-month "transition period," as revealed during a meeting at the Goodwin branch Wednesday.

"At all locations that were impacted, that were proposed to be closing, what we're suggesting is that for the next four months, until the end of the calendar year, what we will leave in place is a selection of books and materials here at the locations," Bridget Quinn-Carey, chief executive officer of the Hartford Public Library system, said at the meeting.

Computers owned by the library will remain at each site and will be operational, materials can be borrowed and returned and the Goodwin branch, which is city-owned, will be maintained by the Hartford Public Library, Quinn-Carey said.

The transitional plan will be in place from Sept. 5 to Dec. 31, when "we will engage a facilitator and moderator to work with us and our communities to develop the long term approach and service plan," according to a library transition handout provided to those in attendance.

"The parallel track here is that while we're engaging a stakeholder, a moderator or a facilitator, we will be able to retain open hours here," Quinn-Carey said.

According to the transition handout:

The Goodwin branch will be open two days a week from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for access to computers and the general facility. There will be one library staff person, one security guard and a community volunteer on hand. The branch also will offer a Saturday adult program and community meeting support.

The Blue Hills branch will be open two days per week for library use and the after-school homework club. There will be one library staff person, one security guard and volunteers to help children. The branch will offer Saturday morning programs for adults and community meetings.

The Mark Twain Branch will open two or three days a week for adult education classes and "Read to Succeed" tutors. There will be one library staff member, one guard and volunteers.

"We can't operate this place alone," Quinn-Carey said, "We can't ... but together we can make this and continue to have this be a really dynamic, community space for learning, literacy and all of the things important to you."

Quinn-Carey has said the restructuring is intended to create a sustainable plan for service at the remaining branches amid a decline in financial support from the city and an increase in operating expenses.

"This is not about financial savings; it's a matter of consolidating resources, putting them in fewer locations, so we can have more staffing, more hours, and more days of operation," Quinn-Carey said at a meeting at the Blue Hills branch Tuesday.

When the three branches eventually close, hours will be extended at the remaining six branches.

All of the branches will open earlier on weekdays under the new service plan, with the exception of Ropkins, which will operate only after school ends at the SAND School, where it is housed.

Also, two neighborhood branches will open on Saturday: Albany and Park. Only the flagship Downtown branch has weekend hours now.

Part of the consolidation, beyond the expanded hours, includes planning for capital projects. Specifically, the library's leadership has pledged to build a new branch in the city's Northeast neighborhood and expand the current Albany and Camp Field branches.

Meanwhile, the soon-to-be vacant Blue Hills and Goodwin branches will be converted into "community centers," as discussed at this week's meetings. Further details weren't available, though board members promised to solicit community input as the project develops.

The Goodwin branch underwent a complete renovation a decade ago, part of a capital improvement project orchestrated by former library CEO Louise Blalock. Voters approved bonds for the renovation in 1996 and 2000, and Blalock secured a $500,000 state construction grant from the Connecticut State Library.

It was chosen for closure in July due to its "low need level," a metric calculated by consultants hired by the library that weighs to poverty, unemployment and the presence of similar services in the surrounding neighborhood.

That calculation also takes into consideration the number of branches in Hartford relative to its size: Comparable cities like Bridgeport and New Haven have half as many branches.

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