Just Getting Started: Library Celebrates Director’s First Anniversary and Accomplishments

One year ago our soon-to-be director toured our town. A recent graduate from a top library program AND a native small-town Oklahoman, she was eager to find a small community to serve and follow her passion: rural library development. As she toured the facilities, met her governing board, and wandered around the charming and quirky little town of Bristow, she increasingly felt like our community is where she’d serve best at. There has been so much good created within our library in just the last year! We cannot wait to see what’s in store down the road for the Bristow Public Library. 

Today is my one-year anniversary as Executive Director of the M&ABJ Bristow Public Library, so I felt it to be a good time to reflect on the past year, as well as share our library’s hopes for the future. A year ago I walked down Bristow’s time-riddled brick streets after my final meeting and tour with the library’s board. After checking out Bristow’s charming Main Street (Route 66) and speaking to Muskogee and other indigenous elders in front of the town’s historic plaza and train depot (home of the Bristow Historical Society and Museum), I meandered towards the side streets and alleyways. I challenge the commonly-accepted meaning of the old adage “going off the beaten path” because, for me, the beaten paths are really those only known and used by locals. 

Side view of local antique shop off Route 66. Facing N/NE at the NE corner of 5th & Main Street (Route 66), Bristow, OK. 21 July, 2021. Photo by Heather D Hutto. 

Typically behind more touristy or marketed areas, I’ve always found these paths full of histories and tales (some true and some embellished) that only locals and their elders know. Always colorful and often amusing, I’ve always felt like these paths are part of who we are. Small towns in Oklahoma are home to some really cool beaten paths. Many laid and conversed by indigenous persons before us. Bristow should be proud of its unique histories. (See also: Klingensmith Park and Amphitheater graced by Eleanor Roosevelt, AKA: one of Bristow’s best secrets, IMO). 

Bristow should also be proud of its resources and character. For a small town, Bristow has a lot of great resources and infrastructure. After visiting the beautiful local park, hospital site, airport, Freeland Center and schools, and oohing and aweing over the early and mid-century architecture (so many adorable bungalows and cool buildings), I felt confident that Bristow and myself were a pretty good match. 

And then I met the chicken…

The chicken that retains a not-exactly-legal existence in town and no one officially claims but simultaneously cannot be caught and remains somehow still fed and watered and lays surprise eggs in both yards and alleys and also visits young kids at school all on its own accord.

In that moment I felt like I maybe understood the character of the town of Bristow. And that’s what did me in, ya’ll. I finalized my decision then.

Chicken walking across Edison Elementary School playground. Facing N/NE at the south end of playground (near West 9th Avenue), Bristow, OK. 21 July, 2021. Photo by Heather D Hutto. 


Every day since I have tried my best to give this place my all. I hope my service has been nothing but beneficial for the Bristow-area community, and I hope to accomplish a whole lot more. Below are seven successes we’ve achieved in the past year, followed by seven goals for the future. And I can’t stress the WE part enough: it takes a team and your library has an outstanding one. We might be tiny, but we are mighty; Bristow should be proud of its little library. 

Accomplishments 21/22

  1. I’ll cut to the chase; some logos appeal right out the gate: we saved our community over $200,000 in educational, cultural, and educational resources in the last year. We also estimate that we’ve saved area residents close to the same number of dollars in the free internet resources we provide for our community. That’s an estimated $400,000 in value for our community. Considering our budget is only $155,000 we feel like this is proof-in-the-numbers success, so there’s that.
  1. The library has used data to match resources and services to the community’s needs and wants. While certain resources shouldn’t be exclusive to big cities (ie. meeting rooms, internet, technologies), the delivery of programming and resources needs to be rarefied and specialized to suit the needs of our small rural community. We created a data collection tool (Community Interest Survey) last August to study and analyze community data. We then used this data to create the library’s Strategic Plan (below), which includes programming, collection development, services, as well as capital projects, and library design. 
  1. We have doubled both the access to the internet and access to computers that we can provide for our patrons through Chromebook and mobile WiFi hotspot checkouts. Notwithstanding, we offer free public WiFi across our entire site (main building, annex, and two parking lots). To assist and empower patrons with low technology skills we offer 1:1 assistance (as available and on a first-come-first-served basis); for those needing advanced assistance, we offer weekly technology classes. 
  1. We have made strides in offering relevant programming FOR ALL AGES. Presently we provide Senior Outreach at a local assisted living facility as well as weekly senior health classes, Teen Game Night, and Youth Media Club. We also offer monthly and seasonal events for all ages. We provide traditional and established programming and resources for our community such as the Summer Reading Program, weekly Storytime with Elsie, and Interlibrary-Loan services. This accomplishment is a staff favorite as well: “My favorite activity has been the zoo coming for SRP and talking to us about the ocean and zoo careers,” exclaims Justice, our Teen and Youth Librarian. Our Children’s Librarian Elsie agrees, “I’ve really enjoyed SRP and all of the presentations. I enjoyed crafts and displays, and am happy the youth have opportunities for games as well as activities. I always enjoy Storytime, and I enjoy the creativity and art we are asked to utilize in library events and displays.”
  1. We have created and maintained the Literacy Program at the Bristow Public Library. An increasing and unaddressed need in western Creek County, as well as adjacent counties, approximately 20 percent of Creek County residents are at or below Level One Literacy, a level indicating a lack of ability to read, analyze, and comprehend print materials (U.S. Skills Map, 2022). In adjacent Okfuskee County this number is a whopping 28 percent (U.S. Skills Map, 2022). While most people only equate the ability to read as “literacy”, literacy itself is far more complex. Literacy is the ability to read (or hear), comprehend, analyze, and interpret information. It includes learning new languages (English as a Second Language) and learning how to use information technologies. A huge endeavor often only achieved by large or system libraries, our humble little library has launched a complete literacy program at M&ABJBPL this last year. Still quite small (15 learners assisted by the program as of this date), we hope our Literacy Program continues to grow and lift up our community. 
  1. Designation of the Choska Talfa Room. Working with the College of the Muskogee Nation, we ascertained Choska Talfa means Post Oak Place, which coincides with early anecdotal reports of what our area was called long before it became known as The Woodland Queen and later, Bristow. We thought it a deeply ethical choice to honor those whose histories came before ours when we considered what to do with our local history and genealogy room. While generalized trends across American libraries might encourage public libraries to retire and relinquish access to archives and special collections, our small library bucks this trend. We have done this for two main reasons: 1) We see a regional need to fill information gaps, and 2) Being dedicated to the primary competency of librarianship (free and equal access to information), we decided to protect and conserve our amazing historical and genealogical resources so they may be accessed by all. After a grueling process of re-cataloging our Archives and Special Collections, and creating a new classification system for these collections, we have reopened the Choska Talfa room in hopes that it may better serve our community. Still a work-in-progress, we are refining the room’s classifications system, which we’ve named the Fus Fixico Classification System, as we work with tribal and historical experts to establish this room as a premier collection and research room. This project is headed off by our Local History and Genealogy Librarian Amanda as well as myself. The classification system combines elements of Graph Theory, the Brian Deer Classification system, and the Dewey Decimal System. We can both attest the project is a labor of love. 
  1. We have recognized and fixed some barriers to access and empowered residents to use their library. (Raises hand) full-time working mother here. I and my staff can understand and relate when we hear patrons say the timing is wrong for them and that they’d otherwise use their local public library more often. While we cannot extend the library’s hours at this time, we have implemented key changes to help our busy patrons: 
  • We encourage and assist our patrons to renew resources online and over the phone: avoiding late fines doesn’t mean you have to physically come to the library in order to check books in.
  • We also encourage patrons to request and reserve resources online and over the phone. These requests then await checkout on a designated Reserves Shelf. This method gives patrons a bit more flexibility with time and makes checkouts a speedier process. 
  • We’ve implemented take-and-make and virtual activities so that patrons can still participate in library programming despite their busy schedules. 
  • We also offer curbside services to those who need them. Simply give us a call to let us know to bring items out to you.

Goals for the future

  1. Fix our Subject Headings Problem. We are sad to say our library’s collection was incorrectly cataloged in the past. Library collections should use subjects in their cataloging procedures since over 90 percent of patrons’ queries use subjects instead of title or author. We estimate that 85 percent of our collections fall short of being correctly cataloged. A tedious, detail-oriented, and long-term project, the library’s staff and volunteers will be continuing to address this problem. We welcome community partnerships and volunteers to help us in this endeavor! In the meantime, feel free to ask us for assistance finding something if your search in our online catalog turns up short. 
  2. The continued growth of our Literacy Program. Led by two AmeriCorps Service Members, we hope our Literacy Program sees sustained growth in 22/23 and is able to utilize our annex building in the near future. 
  3. Start a Friends of the Library. Libraries’ Friends groups are non-profit entities that can raise money and apply for grants on behalf of the library. These groups can also advocate for and promote their local libraries. In addition, our Friends of the Library group will serve as the advisory board to our Literacy Program. One of the only independent public libraries in Oklahoma lacking a Friends group, we aim to get a Friends of the Library group started by July 2023.
  4. Increase the capacity of our Collections Development and Readers Advisory. While we have used the Collection Analysis Tool to discover and assess gaps in our collections, we still seek to change book vendors to better match the content, subject, format, representation, and genre needs and desires of our community. We also intend to increase our Readers’ Advisory capacity and improve our Item Request procedures. 
  5. Increase personnel capacity. As we serve far more than the population of Bristow (4,500), we aim to have the same staffing of comparable libraries (most OK libraries our size have 2-3 full-time staff and 2-3 part-time staff). Presently, our library has a talented and dedicated team of one full-time director and four part-time staff. 
  6. Complete capital outlay projects initiated in November 2021, including the Woodland Forest Room and an outdoor courtyard and green space. Supply chain issues continue to be a perpetual challenge in 2022; therefore, we consider any components of our capital outlay projects (LED lighting overhaul, minor remodeling, refurbishing of the Library’s historic Carnegie library furniture, new shelving installation, new children’s circulation desk) that we have accomplished so far in 2022 to be a success. We continue to patiently wait for the delivery and installation of our remaining projects (new AV equipment in our main conference room, children’s furniture and 3D mural in our Woodland Forest kids room, and our eagerly anticipated outdoor landscape architectural remodel featuring a patio area). 
  7. We will continue to foster community pride and growth by matching our services and resources to the wants and needs of the community. This year we’re asking our young patrons to fill out our Youth Interest Survey, so we can match our services and resources to what kids want and need. We also consistently welcome community input; truly, some of our best ideas have come from our patrons. 

References

Book Systems, Inc. (2022, July). Bristow Public Library online public access catalog. Atriuum (version 12.9.17.263:Thu May 27 10:00:27 CDT 2021).

Community Interest Survey [webpage]. (2022). Montfort & Allie B. Jones Bristow Public Library. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1lFgAuUTK-99oi9j1a7NgaCLwFTYtDPBKt9XEQRgTJr8/edit

U.S. Skills Map: State and County Indicators of Adult Literacy and Numeracy. (2022). National Center for Education Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/skillsmap/

Youth Interest Survey [webpage]. (2022). Montfort & Allie B. Jones Bristow Public Library. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1lFgAuUTK-99oi9j1a7NgaCLwFTYtDPBKt9XEQRgTJr8/edit