The topics of growth and diversity in the city of Auburn came up often in a series of public forums hosted by the Auburn Public Library over the last month, as library staff works to put together its comprehensive strategic plan to best meet the needs of residents going forward.

This week, the city held the last of four town hall meetings put together to engage the community in the library's strategic planning process. 

"This really marks the phase of the process where we turn outward to the community and find out what’s important to them," said Library Director Chris Warren. "The approach we’ve been trying to take is, yes, we’ve been trying to learn about what people like about the library; yes, we want to learn about where they think we can improve; we also want to learn about what just in general is important to them as residents of Auburn, so that we can then take our resources, programs and services and try to help address those needs in a strategic way."

One of the questions posed to the more than 30 participants in the town hall meetings asked what they thought the most significant changes were occurring in Auburn, with growth and diversity a common response. 

"One of the things we hear a lot is growth," said Warren. "We’re very aware that the Auburn population is growing, that the area that we call Auburn is growing, and there’s also an awareness that our population is becoming more diverse in terms of age, ethnicity and a number of other factors as well. So that seems to be something that’s on people’s minds and trying to figure out how the library can continue to address the needs of a diverse population."

Some approaches the library could take to help reflect the changing demographics in the city include keeping a collection of material in languages other than English or adding different programs, classes or workshops, said Warren. 

"Would some English conversation classes be helpful? Would citizenship classes be helpful? There’s a number of approaches that you can take," he said. "What I’ve really liked about this part of the process in particular is we’re really making an effort to listen, and I don’t think that listening is going to stop, particularly when you think about how we’re going to serve a diverse population. We can identify diversity as a pressing concern or a significant change, but then we have to do more listening to find out how do we address that."

The town halls, and a recently finished online feedback form, will help develop the library's strategic plan "to guide decisions about collections, programs, facilities and services for fiscal years 2021 through 2024," according to a news release by the city. 

Now that the town hall meetings are complete, the city will share the comments and feedback garnered with  Ivy Group, a firm based out of Virginia that often consults with municipalities and nonprofits and specializes in public libraries, Warren said. 

"We’re really happy to be working with them," he added. 

The next step would be a site visit with Ivy Group representatives, who would meet with the city's strategic planning team, library management team, the Library Board and Friends of the Auburn Public Library.

"We’ll kind of go over the research that they’ve prepared so far and talk a little bit about the library’s strengths and weaknesses, what opportunities exist for us to continue to grow and change our services," said Warren. 

A telephone survey facilitated by the consultant of Auburn residents would then be conducted to further gather information on how the library could improve. 

"We’ll take all of those findings, and that will all lead into a planning summit that will involve all of those entities that I just mentioned plus the entire library staff," Warren said. "And that’s when we’ll start to really develop strategies for addressing whatever the biggest priorities are."

Warren said the goal is to have the strategic plan before the Library Board at its February meeting and before the City Council at its first meeting in March.

For more information on the library strategic plan, go to www.auburnalabama.org/library/strategic-plan

In other library news, progress continues to be made on the construction of the library's new outdoor classroom and amphitheater. 

"We’ve already got the cement footings in place and a whole bunch of rebar where the brick will eventually be installed. It’s coming along great," said Warren, who added that he expects the project to be completed on schedule. 

The project, which has a budget of just over $200,000, will install a 140-seat amphitheater surrounded by embedded boulders, a pollinator garden and other natural elements on the lawn on the north side of the library's existing parking lot. 

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