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TL v60n3: Interview with Scott Hughes
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 60 Number 3
 

 2010

 

 Interview with Scott Hughes, City Librarian, Bridgeport (CT) Public Library

edited by

Scott Cohen, Interviews Editor

 

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Scott Hughes is currently the eleventh City Librarian in the 128 year history of the Bridgeport Public Library. Since becoming the City Librarian in April of 2007, he has successfully acquired the Library’s first “bookmobile” in over 18 years, administered the Library’s operating budgets (Fiscal Years 2008-10), renovated the first library branch in over 15 years, expanded library hours system-wide, and mobilized citywide community support (in Connecticut’s largest city).

Most recently, Mr. Hughes worked with the Bridgeport Public Library Board of Directors, the library staff and community advocates on the first (successful) library operating referendum campaign in the history of the state of Connecticut. On November 3, 2009, the Bridgeport library ballot question passed by a 2-1 margin, and this will give the library system sustainable funding to restore hours, programs and services. On November 18, 2009, the Bridgeport Public Library Board of Directors adopted the library’s latest long range strategic plan entitled "The Bridgeport Public Library: Building Community…Helping People…Changing Lives…"

Prior to becoming the City Librarian of the Bridgeport Public Library, Scott held a comparable post as the Library Director of the five-site Trenton (NJ) Public Library. He left the New York State Library’s Division of Library Development in 2004 to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a public library director. As the Executive Director of the now defunct Geneva “Free” Library, Hughes worked in concert with the library board, community stakeholders and staff to more than double the Library’s endowment, raise over $200 thousand dollars in private funding and lead a successful public library referendum campaign creating the more sustainable Geneva “Public” Library District.

Scott Hughes is a strong proponent of library community outreach and promoting the Library’s role in community revitalization, economic development, and lifelong learning.


Questions submitted by Deanna Britton, Director
Lucius E. and Elsie C. Burch, Jr. Library
Collierville, TN

How did you formulate your personnel budget?

My personnel budget was formulated to provide 6 days of service in all library locations. I worked with my library managers to come up with a conservative staffing level to accomplish that.

How did you  determine how many staff hours were needed to run the library and in what  areas/units of the library?

I had developed a staffing formula based on the current staffing level and current civil service positions allocated to the library. Due to budget cuts and flat funding, I consolidated public service desks, cross trained staff, centralized some service functions and reassigned staff to new locations. I revised the hours of operation so that the main library, larger branches and storefronts all complemented each other.

What is the relation of part-time to full-time staff? 

Part-timers are unaffiliated and work up to 19 hours per week and full-time employees are union affiliated and work a 35 hour work week.

How much programming, hours of reference desk work, off-desk time, and other duties do  the staff have? 

 About a third of staff time is spent equally on programming, public service desks, and off desk time with other duties.

 

Questions submitted by Susan Earl, Library Director
Brentwood Public Library
Brentwood, Tennessee

After opposing the Mayor and finding a way to financially support the library with the referendum, what kind of relationship do you now have with Mayor Finch?

Since the passage of the library referendum, I still maintain a professional working relationship with the Mayor.

What is your “charm approach” and where did you learn it?  [Would you show us so we could do the same?]

My charm approach comes from my family which grew up in the south (southern hospitality is the best). Use it to your advantage.

The reality is that the public library is everything to many of our customers who use it for educational purposes, free access to information, entertainment, safe haven, shelter, etc. If people feel comfortable stopping to talk to you in public because they recognize you from the library – then you know the charm approach is working. Community/political capital for libraries are vested in “people” who use or would use the library.

What do you recommend to Directors/Managers/Administrators for building public support when working with a new community?  What were your first steps?

I have been a library director in three different states and my first steps have always been to literally hit the ground running. Walk the streets and get to know “people.” Ask “people” for their honest opinion about how the library can be “great” or outstanding – even if they already think the library is excellent.

Develop a one page community survey asking people from within and without the library customer base to weigh in on library services. Develop a strong strategic business plan – even if you have to revise an existing one. Get to know what people want and how much they are willing to pay for it.

With the increased funding, what did you focus upon to provide the best service?  Staffing?  Programs?  Materials?  Facilities?

The budget developed for the referendum was a baseline budget geared towards reversing 20 plus years of neglect (personnel, collections, programs, services and capital improvements) from the city – so we included healthier increases in our personnel line, publications, programming and we included a line to pay for the debt service for capital improvements within our operating budget.

In the article you mention that you allow the public to create their own process to increase funding; what was your role in both communities?

The public spoke loud in clear by voting in favor of reasonable funding for the Bridgeport Public Library on November, 3, 2009. The public is also very supportive by becoming active members of the Friends of the Bridgeport Public Library and through volunteering.

 

Questions submitted by Keenon MCloy, Library Director
Memphis Public Library

To whom do you report, and was there any fallout from challenging the City of Bridgeport Administration? 

I serve at the pleasure of the Library Board of Directors which is a self appointed group and there is typically political fallout whenever a library board and director decide to allow people a process to decide on something (via referendum) that doesn’t include politicians deciding for us.     

What type(s) of media campaign(s) did you do to inform voters about the essential services that your library provides? 

In terms of the referendum and its success- it was a silent campaign that targeted library super supporters which included but was not limited to community based organizations with broad influence, parents, senior citizens, college students, people who use the library heavily, friends of the library, people who don’t use the library but see the value it has on their community, people who believe in the power of having the right to decide on library funding, those who get the library’s return on investment, etc.

Who were your greatest advocates/champions in the campaign to secure this funding through the electorate?

While there was no state level support for this local library ballot question, there was a broad base of support in the community. The true beauty of the library referendum campaign is that it doesn’t take a large committee to organize community wide support. Our political action committee consisted of seven people from across the political spectrum who passionately agreed on this one issue

 

Question submitted by Richard Salmons, Library Director
Jackson-Madison County Library
Jackson, TN

I would like to know what you see as the major challenge to library budgets if the current financial crisis continues and what preemptive steps a library should put in place to secure needed funding?

I am a firm believer in the 80/20 rule, meaning 80% of your operating budget should come from local municipal support and 20% from non-levy funds (fees, fines, and fundraising). If a library district or dedicated tax levy is feasible in your state, I would highly encourage it as a sustainable model for public libraries.

If a library referendum isn’t feasible in Tennessee I would advise interested parties to work with your state legislators and state library officials to develop the enabling legislation that would realize a more sustainable funding model for libraries via referendum.

 

Questions submitted by Sammy Chapman, Reference Librarian
Lambuth University
Jackson, TN

What is your patron’s primary activity at the library? Are most people looking for just internet access or are they asking research questions? Are you seeing a fall off in the use of reference sources to answer questions?

The primary activity in our library is access to computer technology with an equal amount of people in need of assistance (via programming, one-on-one help, or reference questions) as those customers who are self-directed.

There has been some drop off in the use of print resources compared to electronic resources. There seems to be some resistance within the library profession to remove obsolete print materials. 

We still have people coming into the library who need more of a “librarian on demand” or a “reserve-a-librarian” for a one-on-one assistance approach.

We’re finding that people are either more advanced/self-directed or in need of extensive one-on-one assistance. This presents a unique opportunity for public libraries to rethink traditional programming and traditional public service responses.

Are most of your patrons only interested in recreational reading and readers advisory?

Our patron readership is equally distributed between browsers of popular materials, required reading, and those browsers who prefer a certain genre.

 

Question submitted by Scott Cohen, Library Director
Jackson State Community College
Jackson, Tn

What is your greatest satisfaction as Library Director?

My greatest satisfaction as a library director has been recruiting next generation librarians. I have recruited one librarian for every year that I’ve been in the profession. Being a librarian is the best of all worlds.


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