Boston Public Library
Strategic Planning

The BPL Compass

Category Archives: Profiles

In this section of the BPL Compass blog, we bring you profiles of community members whose efforts are connected to principles in the strategic plan.

Profiles – Christine Schonhart, Director of Branch Libraries

Posted on August 30th, 2012 by Gina Perille in Profiles
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To Christine Schonhart, the Boston Public Library branches are more than just books and programs. They are the very heart of the communities in which they’re located. “I see the library as a safe and welcoming environment, a haven for kids and adults,” she says. “Each branch is a beautiful place for people to bring their families, and it’s free, so it’s accessible throughout the city.”

As the director of branch libraries, Christine juggles a host of responsibilities, from hiring staff and developing new programming to overseeing operations and budgets. “It’s an interesting job every day,” she says.

To do her job, she also is mindful of the need for each local branch to evolve with its community. “Neighborhoods change and grow more diverse,” she points out. “I want to hire staff who know the neighborhoods, and at the same time provide consistent, quality programming throughout the city.”

To keep her finger on the pulse of each neighborhood, Christine makes customer feedback a priority, through surveys, online forums, social media, and outreach programs. “I want each branch to be seen as a fun, engaging, welcoming, friendly space where people can come no matter what’s going on in their lives,” she says.

Profiles – Ronaldo Rauseo-Ricupero, Associate, Nixon Pebody LLP; Member, BPL Compass Committee and Strategic Planning Committee

Posted on August 28th, 2012 by Gina Perille in Profiles
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Growing up in East Boston, home of the first branch library in America, Ronaldo Rauseo-Ricupero had a keen sense of the importance of branch libraries to local neighborhoods. “The branches are uniquely Boston,” he says. “They double as community centers—a place for reading groups, exhibitions, lectures, research, and community-based activities. They’re the lifeblood of the community.”

Now an Associate with Nixon Peabody LLP, a Global 100 law firm, Ronaldo also served as a member of the Boston Public Library’s Strategic Planning Committee. He sees this initiative as a way for the library and local communities to build a future together. “It’s a way to sit down and think about a systematic approach for where the library should be,” he says.

He also recognizes that, in this era of limited resources, creative strategies are needed. “We need to keep changing to meet the needs of the communities on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “I’m more than honored to be a part of it. The library is a special place.”

Profiles – Uma Murthy, Branch Librarian

Posted on August 24th, 2012 by Gina Perille in Profiles
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When Uma Murthy first came to the U.S. from India, she wanted a place where she could go and feel part of the community. She found it at her local branch of the Boston Public Library. Now, as a Boston Public Library branch librarian, she is delighted to offer that same sense of belonging to others in her neighborhood.

The branch at which Uma serves is the Brighton Branch, which is housed in a building that was recently extensively renovated according to U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Commercial Interiors guidelines. “People come to see it and ask how we’re saving money,” Uma reports. More than that, the building design invites the community in. “It has big double doors and very good lighting,” she says. “It’s very welcoming.”

The branch’s programs and resources also draw people in—from books and technology resources to active children’s and adults’ programming, including book clubs, English as a Second Language classes, support groups, and more, depending on the current needs of the community.

The branch’s two librarians also often reach beyond the building walls to drop off pamphlets at local colleges, restaurants, and the YMCA. “We want to let our friends and neighbors know we’re here,” says Uma.

Profiles – James Carroll, Writer; Former Trustee, Boston Public Library; Chair, BPL Compass Committee

Posted on August 22nd, 2012 by Gina Perille in Profiles
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“I love the library and had done a lot of work there as a researcher and writer, going back to when I first came to Boston in 1969,” says James Carroll. “It was such a vital center of civic life and intellectual life for me already, and I knew from my own experience how urgently important the library is for the citizens of our Commonwealth.” So, when an unofficial “writer’s seat” previously held by Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough became open, Jim was happy to join the Boston Public Library’s Board of Trustees. During his 11-year tenure, Jim chaired the Neighborhood Services Initiative and the BPL Compass Committee.

Rep. Byron Rushing with former Boston Public Library Trustee James Carroll (right).

“Culture changed more between 1450 and 1550, one might argue, than in any other century over the last several millennia. A vast population of Europe that had no relationship to reading, for example, within a century became significantly literate,” he explains. “So from Gutenberg to Shakespeare, this revolution in human awareness embodied in reading and the book, and the changes in the way the human mind works, the way communication works, the way culture identifies itself— all of that followed on a technological revolution in how human beings read.”

To Jim, we’re going through a version of the very same thing—perhaps with even more far-reaching consequences. “And libraries are at the dead center of this revolution, which is why it’s so urgent,” he says.

Recognizing that there is resistance to the evolution in digital technology, he warns against succumbing to it. “The library can’t be defensive and afraid of new technologies on one hand—that’s the perfect formula for being left behind and discarded by culture—and it can’t let go of its custodianship of the treasured literacy of the past,” he says. “It’s more important than ever that we remember what the book was and learn from how human beings treasured it. The Boston Public Library is doing a great job, in my opinion, of maintaining the cultural tradition by keeping the book as the central symbol, but also understanding that service to the public is about far more than books.” He adds that, “If there were no public libraries today, someone with the brilliant idea of establishing public libraries would never get the funding. It would never happen today. There’s no way government—local, state, or federal—would undertake to embark on the library system.”

Fortunately, he sees a brighter future ahead for the Boston Public Library. As he puts it, “I think it’s the center of public service, the heart of the way city government responds to the needs of its citizens as they grow from infancy to old age, centrally and in partnership with public schools and other public institutions.”

For that reason, he predicts “more and more, not less and less” public resources poured into libraries, enabling them to expand their services. In his vision, libraries will serve as community centers and connectors. “Many community members urgently require the services that are available at the library, whether you’re talking about internet access so that people can go online and apply for jobs or academic assistance for kids who are living in homes where both parents are working late, and so forth,” he says. “The library does it all.”

Profiles – Laura Irmscher, Chief of Collections Strategy, Boston Public Library

Posted on August 20th, 2012 by Gina Perille in Profiles
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Next time you walk into the Boston Public Library and find exactly what you were looking for, think of Laura Irmscher. As the library’s Collection Development Manager, she and her staff are charged with purchasing and managing everything from books, DVDs, and CDs to electronic resources such as eBooks and databases. It’s a daunting task, considering that it includes not only the Central Library in Copley Square, but all the branches.

It’s a challenge Laura embraces.

“The heart of the collections are the things people are excited to use,” she says. To decide what those things are, Laura relies on a number of sources. Many suggestions come directly from users through email, the library website, Facebook, and Twitter. She also works closely with the librarians at the various branches. “We use a lot of data about what’s being checked out to find out what the trends are,” she says. “In one branch, DVDs might need more shelving. In another branch, it might be romance.”

One thing is certain. A lot has changed since librarians relied mainly on traditional book reviews to decide what to acquire. “We look at a lot of websites and magazines,” Laura says. “We’re always taking the pulse of what people are interested in as a culture.”