Library succeeds through experience

Published 10:01 pm Friday, January 10, 2020

Award-winning staff, grand finales and reliable Friends helped the Suffolk Public Library grow last fiscal year and expand the library’s reach through different classes, activities and challenges.

This growth was outlined in the library’s Annual Impact Report for fiscal year 2018-2019, which was made available on the library’s website in November. There were 33,776 attendees at library events during the last fiscal year, which represents a 33-percent increase, according to the report.

Among the library’s marquee events during that fiscal year were the Flip the Switch technology event held in North Suffolk in January 2019, and the Camp SPL Grand Finale Carnival in downtown Suffolk during the summer of 2018.

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The carnival celebrated the end of the Camp SPL Summer Reading Challenge 2018. Suffolk readers crushed the community goal of reading 8,000 books and were rewarded with a hilarious sliming of three library staff members at the event.

The library’s mission, according to the report, is to connect individuals and groups to information, ideas and experiences. Suffolk Public Library Assistant Director Sarah Townsend said that classes and events that focused on “experiential learning” — like Flip the Switch — drew much of the interest this past fiscal year.

“We shifted a lot of our resources towards classes and events on experiential learning, and we’re seeing a huge uptick in programming numbers,” she said.

Suffolk Public Library visits also increased by 7 percent, and the number of newly issued library cards increased by 9 percent compared to the previous fiscal year, according to the report.

Visitors read and logged their books and helped the library be one of the top libraries in Beanstack’s Winter Reading Challenge for a second time in a row. The library received $1,000 in funding for being one of the top libraries in the challenge.

“It was really an award that was won by the community, so that one meant a lot to us,” Townsend said in regards to last year’s Winter Reading Challenge. The goal is to read and win for a third time in Beanstack’s Third Annual Winter Reading Challenge this January, with a community reading goal of 9,000 books.

These accomplishments are possible thanks to avid readers, plus dedicated library staff members. The annual report specifically highlighted two library staff members for their accolades.

Tiffany Duck, manager of library locations, won an award to attend the National Joint Conference for Librarians of Color in Albuquerque, N.M., in September 2018. She also served on the VLA Intellectual Freedom Committee, Black Caucus of the American Library Association, and is the current co-chair of the Literary Awards Committee, and the Chair of the Self-Publishing EBook Awards Committee.

Outreach and Program Services Manager Megan Mulvey was awarded a spot in the 2019 Public Library Association Leadership Academy, in which she joined library leaders nationwide in Chicago “for an intensive few days in March to further her leadership, change management and community-building skills,” the report states.

“They’re really amazing, and I feel really lucky to work in a library system where I learn every day from the people I work with,” Townsend said about staff members like Duck and Mulvey. “We actively try to recruit ambitious, creative people that genuinely love the community and the work that they do.”

Their work is also supported by the Friends of the Suffolk Public Library. According to the report, the 501c3 non-profit provided $10,088 for the library’s 2018 Camp SPL Summer Reading Challenge, $3,112 to help the library maintain a subscription to Beanstack — the online program used to track reading during the summer and winter reading challenges — and $879 to purchase a drone as the Winter Reading Challenge prize, along with other valuable, supportive efforts.

“They’re big supporters of us, and we appreciate them having our back,” Townsend said about Friends of the Suffolk Library.

The library’s mission for this new year is “See YOU at the Library” initiative, which will encourage people to be more connected to what they read at the library, by finding titles that relate to their identities and experiences.

“Our focus this year is on diversifying our collection (and) making sure that everyone sees themselves in our libraries,” Townsend said. This will also be reflected in the library’s themed events in 2020.

For more information on “See YOU at the Library,” the Beanstack Winter Reading Challenge and other upcoming library activities, visit