The question posed by new library director Shawn Fields: what do residents want the library to be?
Fields organized the three-meeting "Vision Quest" to gather input from residents for a three-year plan for the library's future. But at the third meeting, some residents said they were unhappy with changes the library is already making.
"I've seen a lot of directors come and go and I've never seen anything like this," said Ginny Carey. "You really need to think about what you're doing. A good director comes in, looks at how things are going, and then make changes. Six months, a year and then you make changes."
Along with suggestions about using the library's public space and reorganizing areas like the reference section, residents raised complaints about what they saw as abrupt changes and unilateral decisions from the library's new director.
"We haven't made huge changes," Fields told residents at the meeting. "But we're in trouble if the labor department comes in, reviews what we're doing and discovers we're not compliant ... They are going around auditing like crazy. If you're not following the law and you're not following standard of practice, you are not doing things correctly."
Fields said his reviews have shown some inconsistencies that could warrant problems for the library, including in job descriptions.
"Some were outdated," he said. "Other jobs didn't have [descriptions.] We had descriptions for jobs that don't exist. I think it's really important for people to be comfortable in their job and figure out how to do your job well. You need to know what's expected of you ... And we're not done with that."Other residents asked Fields to repair what they saw as damage done by the departure of one reference librarian after Fields took charge.
"There's one beautiful way you could repay all the damage: you could ask Andrea Zimmerman to come back," said resident Justin Scott.
"A Very Difficult Situation"
Speaking with Patch after the final meeting, Fields said he felt it was "normal" for residents to be hesitant about change.
"That happens pretty much everywhere," he said. If you have someone that's been long-tenured in your situation before you. Newtown is unique in many ways, but in some ways it's not. It's a New England town -- people love their town, they're committed and it's a fascinating community. And if people care, they're passionate, they have strong opinions."
On the whole, Fields said, he's met with mostly positive reactions. But some residents at Wednesday's meeting suggested he wait to earn trust.
"You have stepped into a very difficult situation," said resident Sandy Schill. "You've stepped into the shoes of someone who was here a very long time and beloved by the town. A situation has been created where you're saying you understand you have to move slowly. You're saying you understand we all love this library as it is. But you don't have the trust of the residents of this town yet. You have a very big hill to climb to regain that trust."
In a letter she read during the meeting, resident Diane Orlando recounted her lifelong love of the library.
"I love this Library," she said. "From the Daffodils in the Spring, which my mother enjoyed through her last year of life here in Newtown in 2011, to the treasures in the permanent collection of the museum that is The Booth, to the rotating exhibits -- quilts, paintings, photographs; to the amazing staff ... The Booth is a goldmine of knowledge and a building that represents a democratic, open gathering place in Newtown. A place I always feel welcome. Get out the word about this place. Grow and change appropriately, but not abruptly. And not in the middle of summer, when so many people are away."
Fields took the position in July from longtime director Janet Woycik, who led the library for three decades. He came to Newtown July 1 from Shelton, where he served as director of the Huntington branch of the Shelton Public Library.