As a new Pinehurst Village Council prepares to take over, the stage will nearly be set for a professional study to determine what residents want in terms of library services.
The outgoing council, which met for the final time Nov. 12, approved a contract in September with Maryland-based Library IQ to conduct a needs assessment.
More than a year and a half ago, Given Memorial Library leaders turned to the Village Council for help in figuring out how to sustain the privately operated library’s operations in the long run. A yearlong study by a joint committee of library and village officials concluded that a professional assessment should be done to figure out the best way forward.
A public kickoff is planned for Jan. 14, prior to the start of the next council’s first business meeting of the new year. The consultants will hold a public presentation about the process to the council, library board members and staff, and the public, according to Assistant Village Manager Natalie Hawkins.
The public engagement process will run Feb. 18-20 with an open public input meeting and then a series of focus group meetings with the consultants.
While that is a few months away, Hawkins said the village needs to begin recruiting people to participate. She said the village needs to develop applications and a recruitment process before the new council takes office, which is scheduled for Dec. 2.
Hawkins said the public input meeting on Feb. 18 will give residents an opportunity “to share their thoughts on library services and what library services they would be interested in having.”
Residents will also get to register their views in an online survey at EngagePinehurst.com starting Feb. 18. Hawkins said there will be two sets of questions: one for those who have used the library in the last 12 months and those who have not. Questions are still being formulated.
During the third phase of the study, once options and recommendations are developed, a random survey will be conducted in April by the same firm that handles the village’s annual community satisfaction survey. The current council voted earlier this year to allocate $8,000 for that survey.
“By the end of February we should have some general idea about what some potential solutions might look like,” Hawkins said.
Council members asked last week that an additional public meeting be held — before surveys are mailed — to inform residents of options being considered.
Outgoing Mayor Pro Tem John Bouldry said the village employed a similar process on the recently adopted comprehensive long-range plan.
Council member Judy Davis agreed that would be a way to “to help the public understand” what the potential options are before the more scientific random survey is conducted in April to help finalize the recommendations.
Council member Jack Farrell said if holding this additional meeting adds to the cost, it would still be worth it.
“I don’t want to nickel and dime this,” he said. “We are going down a road that could be the single greatest capital expense the village has ever seen. We need to do this right.”
Council member Kevin Drum agreed.
“You get the best results with double or triple feedback loops,” he said.
Drum and Davis are the only two holdovers on the new council that takes over next month.
Given Memorial Library Executive Director Audrey Moriarty added her support for the additional public input meeting.
“It would be nice to hear the preliminary direction of where we are going,” she said. “I am in favor of having another crack at it before it’s out there for a final look-see.”
Hawkins said the other matter that needs to be nailed down is the makeup of the focus groups.
Council members raised concerns about some of the ones proposed by the consultants and village staff.
Three of the seven proposed focus groups would be library representatives: staff and volunteers of Given Memorial, another with members of the library board and yet another with administrators of other area libraries. Another focus group would be business leaders and another for Pinehurst village officials. The final two would be residents would currently use the library and the other would be residents who do not currently use it.
Hawkins said the consultants “felt strongly that business leaders are critically important” because they would be users and potential partners.
But council members felt more emphasis needs to be given to residents and their opinions, not library and business leaders, since they would be the ones who ultimately have to pay for whatever is done.
“It is to gather community input,” Farrell said of the study. “It is designed to ensure broad community input to determine the community’s desires and realistic needs for improved or expanded library services, not that the business community is not part of the community.
“I am very worried if we stray in any way from these objectives and give any hint of favoritism or over-emphasize the needs of some, then we risk not only tanking the results but also casting a shadow of doubt over the process and the ability of the village to make a decision that reflects the desires of the community at large rather than the influential special interests. I know that is a pretty strong statement.”
Other council members agreed.
Davis said the consultants are more accustomed to looking at things through “a library lens.”
“Jack’s point is right on,” she said. “We’ve got to get much more public input.”
Hawkins said that the consultants could talk with some of the library officials and others on a more informal basis rather than through a focus group.
Village Manager Jeff Sanborn agreed that it would be “useful” to have more than one focus group of residents who use the library and one for those who don’t use it.
Drum said he would prefer to see residents on all of the various focus groups.
“It is going to be the public’s money that we are spending,” he said. “I really only want input from the public. We have to make sure when we are spending public money that we are getting their input. … These must be resident-centered.”
Outgoing Mayor Nancy Fiorillo agreed with her fellow council members about the makeup of the focus groups.
“I think the residents should outweigh people with titles,” she said. “You might want to weigh it a little more heavily toward young families. These are the people who use the library.”
But Drum injected that older residents also use the library.
“The focus groups need to be representative of the community,” he said. “It shouldn’t over-represent anybody.”
Hawkins said the village will work with the consultants to accommodate the council’s desires in recruiting people for the focus groups.