Otis Library's 'borders' expanding into Norwich neighborhoods

Mar. 19—NORWICH — Otis Library is one of six Connecticut libraries to be selected for a pilot program with Libraries Without Borders US to find ways to provide services in neighborhood settings to reach people who are unable to, or are uncomfortable with going to the library.

The pilot involves only six Connecticut libraries selected in partnership with the Connecticut State Library, Libraries Without Borders US and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is providing $160,000 to fund the program.

The initiative aims to provide library materials for adults and children to places such as laundromats, barbershops, apartment complexes, community centers or possibly even grocery store parking lots to "meet people where they are," said Dawn La Valle, director of the Division of Library Development at the Connecticut State Library.

"I was pleasantly surprised and humbled to be chosen to participate in this program," Otis Library Executive Director Robert Farwell said Friday.

Otis is the only eastern Connecticut library among the six selected by the Connecticut State Library to participate in the program, sponsored by Libraries Without Borders US. Other participating libraries are in Falls Village in Canaan, East Hartford, Windham, Norwalk and West Haven.

Farwell said Otis Library was invited by state library officials for the program in 2021, but it is just now getting underway. Officials from Libraries Without Borders US visited Otis last Monday to tour the library and meet with staff. The group collected information on library services and needs of the community and will return this week to reach out to Norwich city and civic leaders, ethnic groups and others to hear suggestions on possible outreach locations, Farwell said.

La Valle said when libraries were considered for the program, state library officials wanted to represent all regions of the state, find rural, urban and suburban libraries and find communities with unique needs and libraries with experience in trying to meet those needs. She described Norwich as, "a very diverse library community with a lot of need."

Otis stood out for its many services to the diverse immigrant communities in the Norwich region, many of whom work at the region's two casinos, La Valle said. Otis hosts English language classes, U.S. citizenship classes, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program and holds technology classes to teach computer literacy.

In addition, Farwell said the library now has home delivery services to drop off or pick up library materials for residents unable to get to the library.

No specific outreach locations have been identified yet for the pilot program. The sites will be "intentionally temporary" for the duration of the pilot program, La Valle said, in an effort to reach people unfamiliar with library services and attract new users.

She hopes the pilot can be expanded to more libraries and to other states. The pilot hopes to build a "sustainable practice" of public outreach with training of participating library staffs to continue the effort beyond the pilot period.

In a news release announcing the pilot program last week, Libraries Without Borders US Executive Director Aaron Greenberg said the organization has been trying to provide information people need wherever they are, whether in refugee camps in Jordan or Bangladesh or laundromats in Baltimore or San Antonio.

"We are enormously excited about the opportunity to bring the resources and treasures of the public library to communities across Connecticut and expand access to this vital part of our civic and digital infrastructure," Greenberg said in the news release. "We want to replicate the work we're piloting in Connecticut nationally, state by state, county by county, town by town, branch by branch."