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The Library Grows – Up?

by in Arts and Culture, Comprehensive Plan, Development and Zoning, Education, Events, Green Line, Politics, Schools and Youth, Seniors, Teens, Union Square, Ward 2, Ward 3
Posted on March 26, 2013 at 11:16 am

March 26, 2013
10:00 am
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Since our January tussle over a new library, it’s been great to see how dynamic the Somerville Public Library is and how creative, aggressive, and collaborative their new programs appear. Whether or not they build a mausoleum on Union Square depends on the whims of a Board of Aldermen, Mayor and state financial partners, as well as on the needs – as you, the citizens express them – of the public. Let us encapsulate that discussion while we explore the leadership with which it coincides. We can – and most certainly should – talk more about that as the Union Square planning continues. Whether a large new library works well with the Washington Street retail and housing plans, changing the current Post Office into an Arts Center, and reorganizing street plans to cut off the restaurants from their parking while isolating the auto and motorcycle shops from the main street, those are all other issues. At issue here is how we can help the Library meet its increasingly apparent and progressive outreach goals.

Before exploring those goals, however, it would be helpful if the Library staff or Boards participated in Somerville by Design sessions the city itself sponsors, and/or the discussions concerning that residential and retail site on Washington Street led by the Somerville Community Corporation and their developer partners. The new Library would be just across the street from one and a major anchor to other Union Square development, so it’s odd that they’ve never appeared at any of those meetings to offer how their building might enhance, compete, or diminish the expectations of those in the room. For that matter, the meetings themselves – in various sites around Union Square, for example – demonstrate that there are lots of meeting spaces that don’t seem known to the Library planners. They might meet with their pending neighbors more often to assess real needs rather than guess at the volumes of space the new Library might contribute.

That said, the Library has made great progress in its digication and program development. As their blog shows, they’ve created a partnership with a for-profit education firm unknown to the schools, to help with college planning and host a series of workshops in April, a little after most of the many of college deadlines, presumably to help kids and adults who may have missed the formal deadlines for UMass, for example, in November and January. While I don’t know if or how much they may have paid Learning Express  to start April 9 as announced on the Library Blog and in today’s Patch,  I’m sure they’ll be helpful. And it’s particularly interesting that their commercial partners there have an eFolio product that may be similar to the free ePortfolios now used in the high school, and that Learning Express is formally affiliated with Blackboard Education, the giant education firm now offering an online high school and college courses. I do hope that the Library has coordinated that partnership with the Somerville schools, since no one would want those partners to confuse students and their parents.

It’s also exciting that Mayor Curtatone recently reviewed the progress of the Library leadership in a column in the Somerville News, describing everything except their new building plans. I’m sure what was an oversight, given the range of other innovations he cited, ranging from free meditation classes to crafting arts classes. And it’s particularly exciting that the Library hosted those arts programs, given that Parts and Crafts is currently searching for a summer site for their programs. With endorsements like the Mayor’s, I’m sure the Library would be a welcome partner and host.

More specifically, Mayor Curtatone – and the Library’s blog on March 6 – both describe the Library’s one-in-ten national model StoryCorps project. As a frequent participant in the Council on Aging‘s Fit for Life program, I’m sure they are collaborating with Somerville’s seniors to help the next generation document the stories of those of us from “the last century.” There’s a rich resource and an even richer kind of partnership available, to trace the similarities and differences between Somerville’s future and its past. Just as I’m equally sure it was just an oversight – and not a matter of exclusion – that the Council on Aging and the School Committee were not listed among the Library’s partners in their Blog‘s summary of the new program earlier this month. The prospect of teen video documentaries of Somerville’s remembered history – for both SCAT and YouTube – is very exciting, and I’m sure the Library staff is familiar with the media labs at both the High School and at SCAT, just as I’m sure they know about the ePortfolios already in process.

Finally, I expect to see some fellow Somerville librarians at the opening of the Digital Library of America, at the Boston Public Library next month, on April 18 and 19. Ironically, I’ll be there because my Dean – when I was at Columbia College – was John Gorham Palfrey, and the current President of the Digital Library to be opened that day is John Palfrey, formerly at the Berkman Center and Harvard, and now head of Phillips Academy at Andover. Mayor Menino’s announcement – yesterday to the city’s Bureau of Municipal Research – that the Boston Public Library would start lending iPads to library users seems oddly parallel to what I suggested two months ago for Somerville, and to our own Mayor’s vision of a digital future. And the technology of the Boston Timothy Smith Network might well be adapted to a Somerville coffee-shop and nonprofit network, with universal access to eBooks. Dr. Palfrey’s leadership of the Digital Library integrates his focus on education, policy change, and student involvement that he showed at Berkman, where, three years ago when he led that organization, Somerville showed a cross section of multicultural ePortfolios. So the new national library seems remarkably consistent with both Library and Public School changes here in Somerville. We really can be a tiny demonstration city to the world. And, at least conceivably, the Library can contribute significantly to that show.

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