Commentary: Dover Public Library looks toward future

By Brian Sylvester

As the new director of the Dover Public Library, the question of what the future holds for libraries is at the front of my mind.

It can be difficult to look past what’s happening now. Today, our library is closed to the public, except for brief visits to pick up items. The pandemic has forced us to move our programs and events to virtual spaces and to leave our meeting rooms closed until it is safe to gather in groups again. Our top priority for 2021 is to reopen our facility.

Brian Sylvester

But we also must look past the short-term future and think about the long term. We are in the midst of major changes to library service — changes to how we provide access to the collections (or even the buildings) and changes to what those collections are. The needs of our communities are evolving.

Librarians navigate these changes by focusing on core values. Here in Dover, we are committed to providing equal access to the library’s resources to everyone, and providing a diversity of opinions and ideas within our collection and building our community.

We do this by providing the services Dover residents have come to expect from their library. Things like access to our collection of books, movies and periodicals or to programs like “Songs and Stories” with Miss Jackie.

And we are doing this in other, newer ways, too. Libraries across Delaware partnered this year with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to provide 12 new books a year to children from birth to age 5, totally free, in a bid to eliminate the literacy gap for poorer neighborhoods. We offer adult book clubs, reading a wide variety of authors, genres and subjects. We purchased a license for the Teen Resource Center, an online hub for research, homework help and answers to questions about health, financial literacy and personal growth. And when the pandemic ends, the library will once again provide the community with spaces to meet and collaborate to build Dover’s future.

As an anchor library for Kent County, Dover is committed to trying out new services and programs, and we’re developing a three-year strategic plan to guide us. That plan calls for things like looking at creative ways to use the spaces outside our building and drafting a technology plan to see how we can leverage our resources to get technology into the hands of people who need it. The plan will include ways to diversify our collection, like examining our foreign language books to make sure we’ve got materials that use the languages that are spoken in our community.

We will always have our core traditional services, but there is more that the library can do.

This isn’t the first time libraries have changed. The future of libraries will be different, but libraries will always be here to serve our communities. I look forward to seeing what comes next. Until then, I encourage everyone to visit the library’s website at dover.lib.de.us to explore all the resources that are still available.

Library visitors are welcome to pick up items you’ve placed on hold (either online at dover.lib.de.us or by phone at 736-7030) Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays from 2-6 p.m.

Brian Sylvester has been director of the Dover Public Library since July.