Published September 21, 2021
Chronicle Staff Writer
WILLIMANTIC — Willimantic Public Library staff are always looking for innovative and fun ways to engage the community.
As they adapt to changes in regular service delivery during the pandemic, library staff and volunteers have also been busy working on several new projects.
During a presentation at a town council meeting earlier this month, library officials discussed some of their newest initiatives, including Little Libraries, a Wi-Fi café, book bike and maker space.
“Over a dozen new programs have been created and supported,” Willimantic Public Library Board of Directors Vice Chairperson Barbara Wright said.
The new projects connect to the strategic goals established for the current year.
Willimantic Public Library Director Dan Paquette said one goal library officials have is to expand the reach of digital resources and make the library and internet more accessible to patrons.
The library got an $8,000 Neighbor to Neighbor grant from the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut that was used to purchase tables, 11 Wi-Fi hot spots and lights for the café.
Patrons who are 18 and older can take out the portable hotspots for three weeks at a time. “They’re very popular so we’re actually looking to get some funding and find a new way to purchase more of them,” Paquette said.
Public works staff will help set up the outdoor café in the front of the library, which will provide access to the library 24 hours a day.
Tables have been delivered and CJ Electrical Services in Windham will do the electrical work.
“We were fortunate to get a new Wi-Fi hotspot that was put on the exterior of the building through one of the initiatives he (Gov. Ned Lamont) had through COVID,” Paquette said.
He said he did not know how much the external hotspot cost, but it was funded through Lamont’s “Everybody Learns” grant.
Paquette said the library also received $32,000 through that grant to assist with the re-opening after the library was closed during the pandemic, including buying furniture so people could be spaced out more.
Another new library initiative is the book bike, a bicycle with a bin attached to it that can be used to bring books and other materials to places around town, such as parks, day care centers, senior centers and school playgrounds.
In addition to lending books out, staff can also use the bicycle to issue library cards, sign out hotspots and even issue free reading glasses.
“The possibilities are endless,” Wright said.
The bicycle and the equipment were funded using almost $12,000 in donations, including $3,145 in community donations; a $3,145 matching grant from Sustainable CT; $5,200 from the Windham School Readiness council; and $500 from the Charter Oak Credit Union.
Paquette said the library is awaiting delivery of the bicycle, which was purchased from Haley Tricycles in Philadelphia.
“We don’t have an official shipment date,” he said. “I think they’re having supply chain issues.”
Another new initiative is installation of Little Libraries throughout town.
So far, the libraries have been placed in front of the child care center at the Windham Heights apartment complex on Scott Road and at the Garden on the Bridge.
The libraries will be stocked with donated books for adults and children of all ages.
“The goal is to make books available to every member of the Windham community in their neighborhood or at community meeting places,” Friends of the Willimantic Public Library President Nancy Pettitt said.
She said patrons are encouraged to take a book and add a book they have “outgrown.”
A map will be created to pinpoint the location of each Little Library in town as they are installed and more Little Libraries are planned.
Pettitt said the first priority is to get the libraries installed at day care centers and elementary schools and then at every apartment and public housing complexes.
The Little Libraries will be built by Windham Technical High School carpentry students and other community volunteers.
Other library initiatives and projects include a story walk at Willimantic Whitewater Park on Bridge Street, where the farmers market is held Saturdays from May through October, and the new “Books and Babies” program.
The story walk features a book on large “pages” that people can read as they walk through.
The book changes every month and there are plans to continue the walk through October.
Paquette said they may extend the book walk later into the year, depending on the weather.
It is open at all times, not just during the farmers market.
“It’s a great way to be doing something literacy-based, but also enjoying the outdoors and tying it in with the farmer’s market has been outstanding for us,” Paquette said.
Members of the Friends of the Library have distributed donated books to people at the farmers market.
The Books and Babies program was funded by the New Alliance Foundation, which provided $3,200 toward the initiative, and the Windham School Readiness Council, which provided $3,865.
It is a new literacy program aimed at new families that provides free books to parents in an effort to get parents to read to their baby every day.
“Every project you mentioned was just wonderful to hear about,” Windham Town Council member Dagmar Noll told library officials at the Sept. 7 town council meeting. “I’m so excited about the energy around the library right now.”
For more information on the Willimantic Public Library, visit www.willimanticlibrary.org or call the library at 860-465-3079.