American public libraries are transforming themselves into relevant information and cultural centers by re-learning their own creation stories. Clark Memorial Library is an example of this process. Before Bethany was even the incorporated town it is today, leading families gathered together to create a communal lending library called the Bethany Union Library. Between the years of 1798 – 1812 members gathered at Captain Isaac Judd’s house. While not privy to the sessions of these men, for at the time it was a gentleman’s domain and meetings were private, it was standard practice for members of the lending community to share volumes from their own collections and to use the meeting as a forum for sharing information, advancing ideas and engaging in rhetorical discussions.
Over a century later, in 1930 the Bethany Library Association was founded by Treat B. Johnson, a descendent of two of the founding members of the original library. This group consisted of Bethany residents meeting in Mr. Johnson home with the aim of starting a library for the town. In 1936 the present day library was built by Noyes Clark in memory of his parents. Bethany established its own town library prior to either Woodbridge or Orange.
Bethany’s library roots are those of concerned and intellectually curious community members. These were people eager to improve themselves and to benefit their neighbors by creating an institution to promote learning, self-advancement and quality use of leisure time. Our present day patrons and sponsors, such as those who have generously given during our Annual Appeal campaigns, recognize that the Clark Memorial Library is a community asset seeking to fulfill those aims of the public library.
Our strides to meeting those aims include activating our full services with iConn. ICONN is the state’s digital library. Available to anyone in the state, it streamlines interlibrary loan requests. This makes it easier for patrons to find materials that are not held in our collection and to pick up those materials at the Clark Memorial Library. To use this service patrons go to www.iconn.org, log in using their library card number and begin searching the extensive catalogue held by the state. This catalogue includes the full collection of every public library, as well as several academic libraries. Once the desired item has been located, patrons place a request for the item and it is processed to come to Clark Memorial.
An example of how this is improving services is that of a young lady engaged in tutoring a grade school math student. She wanted full access to the math texts and related resources used by the school. By ordering these through Clark Memorial’s iConn request link, she was able to borrow these materials from Eastern Connecticut State University. She did not have to drive to Willimantic to retrieve the items; they were delivered to Clark Memorial via our daily visit from the state’s Connecticut car.
Other illustrations of how we are reaching to meet our aims while remaining true to our roots include increasing programming opportunities for adults, children and families. Adult programming this past year ranged from tips on how to become a published writer to stress reduction techniques to supporting two book clubs. In the coming months adult programming will continue to expand with opportunities for learning how to use social media to promote one’s business to author visits to introductions to other cultures. In planning future programming we invite library patrons to share ideas, and in being true to our roots, even lead the programming.
One of Clark Memorial’s greatest strengths is the breadth of our book and magazine collection. Over time, though, a library’s collection can become unwieldy by taking up needed space for new materials. Caring for a library’s collection is similar to caring for one’s garden: Sometimes parts of it have to be pruned to provide for growth and cultivation. Last year we began the process of identifying the best ways to simplify our collections so that they meet the needs of patrons. Over the next few months when one visits the library it should become noticeably easier to browse shelves and to see the gems of our collection. Library items needing a new home will be offered to patrons at our free bookcase.
Again, the library staff at Clark Memorial is proud to serve as the stewards of this institution. We look to the strengths of our roots to help us build a lasting foundation for the evolving services of the future. All of us – Dorothy, Hazel, Jared, Jean, Lindsey, Marcelle, Steve and Melissa – thank you for your continued support of Bethany’s library.