Fort Worth Public Library hits major milestones
Published on September 09, 2022
In the past five years, the Fort Worth Public Library has strived to enhance and expand its offerings while also aiming to make its services and resources more accessible to residents.
With the hiring of a new library director in 2017, one of the first orders of business for the leadership team was to refocus the Library’s mission and vision and develop a strategic plan to guide them. The mission: Building a community of learners, dreamers and doers. The vision: Your community gathering place for learning, self-discovery, shared experiences and personal growth.
Roadmap to success
The strategic plan focuses on six focus areas that are designed to connect more closely with the public, build partnerships and foster educational opportunities and economic development. Specifically, the plan brings focus to Customer Engagement, Books & Reading, Arts & Culture, Education & Growth, Community Vitality and Employee Empowerment.
Breaking down barriers
Many of the early milestones involve erasing obstacles that prevent people from visiting a library. Among tactics is to make library operating hours consistent across branches and open the three largest locations on Sundays. The new hours, implemented in May 2019, add more time for library access while requiring no additional staffing.
In October 2019, another major change was eliminating late fines, which took away an economic obstacle for those who could not afford to pay their fines. The new policy also removed the worry about being “caught” for having late items and not wanting to visit a library because of that fear or embarrassment.
In September 2022, a new initiative called Open Access is being piloted at one location to offer preauthorized cardholders access to a library building during extended hours that go beyond the regular operating hours.
A place for all ages
Libraries have for a long time had youth-focused programs, and Fort Worth’s is no exception. Fun and engaging story times and activities each week pair with early childhood programs that prepare and inform children and their caregivers for what is to come. The Reby Cary Youth Library opened in August 2021, is a vibrant space focused on the literacy of the city’s youngest residents.
But what about adults? In 2019, the new Adult Services unit was formed to manage and expand programs for the grownups. There are now a bevy of adult-focused book clubs, recurring events and activities to build community, learn more about a special interest or just have fun. Each location is certified as Age- and Dementia-Friendly; staff is trained to approach and assist visitors who might need special assistance.
A Library of Things
Books, books and more books – physically printed materials and online – comprise much of why people visit a library. Reading material continues to be a top demand, along with audiobooks, movies and music. Today’s Fort Worth Public Library also offers “things” to check out:
- Musical instruments.
- Video games.
- STEAM kits, including robots.
- Baby Bags.
- WiFi hotspots, which have been among the most popular items.
- Free passes to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden.
- Backyard games – from horseshoes and croquet to lacrosse kits.
In 2021, the Library began offering free access to cardholders to JobNow and LinkedIn Learning.
JobNow provides access to individual coaches and tools to build skills and help land the right job. LinkedIn Learning offers a large collection of video-based training resources to help develop professional and personal skills.
Adult English as a Second Language classes at several library locations offers a supportive, casual environment for new English speakers to build confidence and vocabulary while learning the language. The classes are also offered virtually on Friday mornings.
Throughout the year, the Library also offers the only free Spanish-language High School Equivalency classes in Tarrant County to help prepare students to take the GED exam.
All City facilities were closed to the public on March 19, 2020, in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. Work didn’t stop at the Fort Worth Public Library, however. Employees were put to work on behind-the-scenes projects and also leant a hand to other City departments. Libraries were used to collect donated and handmade personal protective equipment.
The pandemic forced many to stay at home, and one special project had staff members calling every senior citizen cardholder to chat and check on them. There were no furloughs and layoffs during the height of the pandemic at the Library.
Two months after the onset of the pandemic, the Library began offering services again, at first with curbside service and soon after with buildings reopened with CDC-guided safety protocols in place. The Fort Worth Public Library’s reopening was one the first major systems in Texas to re-establish in-person services during the pandemic. Two new library branches were opened – Rise in July 2020 and Golden Triangle in August 2020.
Many in-person programs were offered virtually for those who felt unsure about returning to libraries. That included live programming as well as prerecorded projects such as “The Learn. Dream. Do. Show,” a children’s educational video series that focused on different themes.
Fort Worth residents turned to reading while locked down at home, and especially digital resources saw a spike in growth that has continued to increase. For the first time, more than 1 million digital items were checked out in a single fiscal year. Readers found fellowship with the Stay At Home Book Club, a Facebook group that remains popular and continues to grow.
The Library partners regularly with other City of Fort Worth departments, community organizations and businesses.
In February 2020, a music-streaming service that also supports local musicians and their music was launched in a partnership between the Fort Worth Public Library and Hear Fort Worth. Musicians selected to be supported on the Amplify 817 platform are paid upfront to feature their work for three years. Not only does the curated collection allow the public a one-stop spot to hear the sounds of the city, but the business model supports up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
The Library works with the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge to provide special admission-free days at the center, along with a story time and craft activity. The partnership created “Discovery Club Story Time” videos during the pandemic.
The Library regularly hosts programs for the Fort Worth Water Department that focus on conservation and landscaping that requires less water.
Members of the Police and Fire departments regularly participate in story times and other activities to showcase their work and get closer to the communities they serve.
A special partnership with La Gran Plaza retail center allows space for a library among the shops: La Gran Biblioteca. The Library participates in events there and takes advantage of the natural flow of traffic through the mall.
Eyes on the future
In January 2020, another crucial planning document was finalized: the Library’s facilities master plan.
New library buildings take time, but innovation can overcome some of the delays to provide library services where they are needed. La Gran Biblioteca is a creative solution to taking services to the audience. Likewise, the Rise Library inside the LVT Rise Community Center adds a needed service in a previously underserved area without having to start planning a comprehensive facility from scratch.
Voters consider approval of bond proposals to fund the planning and construction of standalone libraries, and there are more of those in the works. A library in far southwest Fort Worth is planned to open in 2023, and a recently approved bond gave the green light to lay the groundwork for a new library in far northwest Fort Worth. Both quadrants of the city are seeing tremendous population growth.
The imminent sale of the Central Library in downtown will provide another opportunity to be innovative about how services are provided to the public.
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