The city has its first-ever female chief librarian, along with a new short-term deal on summer library hours that workers called a possible new direction in labor relations.
Mayor Toni Harp announced both those developments at a Thursday afternoon City Hall press conference.
She announced that she has named Martha Brogan (pictured above) of Westville the city’s new head librarian. Brogan has worked in libraries for over 30 years. The eighth chief librarian in the city’s 188-year history, she will oversee a system that includes a main downtown branch, four neighborhood branches, and a Readmobile.
“A library should be a force, not an institution,” Brogan said, quoting a mid-20th century predecessor (former City Librarian Meredith Bloss). She is charged with helping the system evolve with changing, tech-reliant times; diversifying the library workforce; and helping raise money.
Brogan—whose latest book read was actually a book heard, the audio version of Jill Lepore’s Book of Ages—said the library’s future rests on a mix of old-fashioned hard covers, public access to computer terminals inside the buildings, around-the-clock online information, community programs (like the pictured international block party held two weeks ago at the Stetson Branch), and community outreach by branch librarians.
Like other cities, New Haven has seen its libraries defy the predictions of their demise in an era of 24/7 internet connectivity. People still read books. And they seek information and community in many new ways for which libraries turn out to be ideal free venues. Public use of New Haven’s libraries has increased for four or five consecutive years, according to Deputy Director Cathy Denigris, with some 480,00 visits during the fiscal year ending June 30.
Mayor Harp also announced Thursday afternoon that after negotiating with her labor relations director, Marcus Paca (pictured), union leaders agreed to a plan to keep all the branches open on Saturdays in August from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The city had previously planned to keep them closed on Saturdays all summer. (They’re open Saturdays during the school year.)
The negotiations took place with two AFSCME locals representing library employees, Locals 884 and 3144. The unions agreed to have existing employees work overtime to fill the extra hours; enough people volunteered that no one had to be ordered to work the overtime (and miss planned vacations, for instance).
The new hours will cost between $35,000 and $44,000, including custodial and building costs, according to city Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Jennifer Pugh. Pugh said her staff is in the process of finding unused already-budgeted money to cover the cost.
Library workers were “shocked” when they learned the library would be closed on Saturdays in July and August, said Lore Lichtenberg, a Local 884 vice-president as well as an employee of Westville’s Mitchell Branch Library. “It’s important to be open when families can come.” Lichtenberg (at left in photo, with Local 884 President Doreen Rhodes) said the unions initiated the idea of negotiating added hours.
Harp said she too had sought the Saturday hours, which she called “an air-conditioned option to avoid health risks associated with summer heat.”
Local 3144 President Cherlyn Poindexter (pictured with Brogan) praised the city’s openness in negotiations, which she called a change from labor-management dealings in previous years.
“It’s a start. We want a fresh start” toward better labor relations, Poindexter said. “Mayor Harp has listened to our concerns.”
The unions have more library concerns they plan to bring to that negotiating table, including the need for more staff, more hiring of New Haveners, and more racial diversity.
Also on the agenda, according to both sides: Negotiating Saturday hours for both July and August next year.