When you walk into Bristol’s Main Public Library at 5 High Street in Bristol, it might appear to be just like many libraries you have entered in the past but upon closer review you’ll find it’s very different and thoroughly modern in every way. It was established in 1906 but got a tremendous facelift in 2006 with a major expansion and continues to grow and prosper.
“We tried to keep the history and integrity of the building in tact because it is a grand old building but we had to modernize it so our visitors can find what they are looking for in the best and fastest way possible,” says Debbie Prozzo, Bristol Public Library’s Director. “We reorganized the space, added the latest technology and carved out a special place for children so they understand what the library is and how it can help them now and in the future.”
Prozzo should know about changes and keeping up with the times. She has been with the library for over 30 years and in charge of the library as Library Director the past four years. While she is very proud of the new additions, streamlined walkways, comfortable seating and latest technology, she is quick to point out the attention to detail of the original building. There are still many small aspects of the building that date back to the original structure still visible to visitors.
Staying relevant is one of the greatest challenges all libraries face. With the advancement and affordability of computers and other digital resources, many people don’t fully appreciate that the Bristol Public Library remains just as current as any other organization Bristol.
Many are shocked to find when they walk in they are greeted by streams of natural light that pours in almost every area for better reading and comfort. The rooms and shared spaces are surprisingly open and not barricaded with shelves and shelves of books. Don’t be confused…there are still a lot of books. In fact, there are thousands of books, but that really is just one chapter of the library’s success story. One thing hasn’t changed. You still need a library card to take advantage of the myriad of the library’s resources, and it’s still free for Bristol residents.
While many people continue to take advantage of reading the local newspapers free of charge, they now also can access more information faster than ever before. Microfiche has been replaced by the latest in computer technology. Upstairs in between the three main community rooms sits a computer lab stocked with 18 desktop computers. Today’s library goers have many digital options to choose from. One of the most popular is accessing ancestry.com designed to trace a family’s heritage. Prozzo reports that there have been over 4,000 sessions logged in where individuals research family histories.
For those who have immediate needs, residents can access a popular job website called jobnow.com to find employment. That particular site has resources for finding employment, tips for all aspects of job hunting and even templates for resumes. Need to print that resume? No problem because the library provides that too. You can even further your education because residents can take online learning courses in over 30 languages. All it takes is a library card.
The enclosed computer lab and another open section has computers free to use for whatever a reader might need, such as surfing the Internet, transferring files to and from a flash drive or scanning a piece of art for a project. There is even a service to fax documents. In the lab, there is a certified computer technician that can assist you if you are new to a particular system or software. He can even give advice on basic computer repair issues. The library also offers computer classes on a variety of subjects. There are even charging stations for most smart phones.
One of the most popular and rewarding aspects of the library is a large and colorful section dedicated to kids. It is lined with colorful artwork, rows of books made specifically for young hands, and at a height anyone can find the book they want to read. This section is also modernized with several digital kiosks filled with learning games and activities for preschoolers as well as early teenagers. Unlike stereotypical perceptions of the past, having fun is encouraged in this section of the library.
“We have to attract and serve the needs of our future library visitors and residents. You can’t walk through here without smiling and feeling good how these children enjoy all the resources we have to offer,” said Prozzo. “The great thing we are seeing about the library transformation is that now the library is a community hub. Many people come to the library first when they get here because they need current information and want to learn about the City.”
A successful new component of the library offerings is the “Coffee House Series”. This series highlights local musical artists. In the lower part of the building there are meeting rooms for rent or special presentations hosted by the library.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this modern library is that most of the resources are free to Bristol residents. The library is funded by the City of Bristol and the Friends of the Library organization. Besides the main library, there is a vibrant branch located in Forestville. In all, the library employs 30 full-time employees and has an additional eight part-time employees.
Prozzo adds the main goal of the library is to continue to stay relevant, be an important aspect of the community, and always be here for everyone. Even though it may look and feel different than libraries of the past, that is one goal that has never changed. For more information on what the library offers and to stay up to date on local events, log on to the library’s website at www.bristollib.com.