Hamden Library Podcast

Episode One: Telling Our Story

September 21, 2021 Hamden Public Library Season 1 Episode 1
Hamden Library Podcast
Episode One: Telling Our Story
Show Notes Transcript

We kick off the podcast with an episode exploring what public libraries do, throwing off tired stereotypes of book palaces with shushing librarians who don't like to be disturbed. Our patrons sound off on why they love their library. Our co-hosts interrogate one another and learn about something called "fun." We review books both fiction and non- plus a film review by our own media obsessive (and stalwart Best Video employee) Mike Wheatley. Plus: An in-depth interview with Hamden Public Library Director Melissa Canham-Clyne explores all facets of what libraries were, are, can and will be in the future. You should totally check it out!

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
The core value of a library isn't books, like a lot of people when they think of library they think "book," but our core value is trust.

Mike Pierry  
Hello, and welcome to the Hamden Library Podcast. I'm your host, Michael Pierry. I'm a librarian at the main branch of Hamden Public Library. And joining me today is my co-host, Alyssa Bussard.

Alyssa Bussard  
 Hello. 

Mike Pierry  
Hi. Alyssa has been our teen librarian for several years and is now our associate director. We'll talk about that a little bit later. But first, we'll be introducing some of our regular features like our book and movie recommendations. A little later on, we'll hear from our patrons to get their perspectives on what makes libraries special, especially libraries in Hamden. And then we'll have a very special guest in our last segment, so stick around, it's going to be a fun show. But first, here's what's coming up in the library.

Mike Pierry  
Coming up on Wednesday, September 29, we have two events going on simultaneously. Yale University Dean Mark Schenker will lead the discussion of Maggie O'Farrell's popular novel "Hamnet," online over Zoom. And over at the Community branch, they'll be having a pajama storytime. And those are both happening on the 29th at 6:30pm. So take your pick, I think you can probably get away with wearing your pajamas either way. On Thursday, October 7 at 2pm, there will be a special presentation on fire safety from the Hamden Fire Department as part of our community helper series. This will be an outdoors program, it will be next to the gazebo in Town Center Park. Then on Tuesday, October 12, for all you cat lovers out there, we'll have a special program devoted to our feline friends. It's called "Decoding the Mysteries of Cats," and it's presented by Steven Quandt, a feline behavior specialist for the Animal Care Centers of New York City. That program is also online and it's from 6:30 to 7:30pm via Zoom. And that's what's coming up at the library. 

Mike Pierry  
Hey, Alyssa?

Alyssa Bussard  
Yes?

Mike Pierry  
 Read any good books lately? 

Alyssa Bussard  
Oh, is it time for my book recommendation? 

Mike Pierry  
It is. And this is our first episode so make it a good one, please. 

Alyssa Bussard  
What do you mean? You think I'm going to recommend a bad book to people? 

Mike Pierry  
Okay, fair point. What have you got for us?

Alyssa Bussard  
Okay, so the best book I've read this year, or maybe ever is "The House in the Cerulean Sea" by T.J. Klune. It was one of those books that was billed as "appropriate for all ages," and, you know, "award-winning" or whatever. And I have to say that every single time I've read a book with so much hype, I've been disappointed, until I read "The House in the Cerulean Sea." It was that good. In a very general sense, the book is about a man named Linus who leads a very quiet and boring life. He works very boring days at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, and then he goes home to his boring house. Until he's given a new classified case where he has to head to an island with six dangerous children: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian and the Antichrist. Hilarity ensues. And what follows is truly one of the most heartwarming stories I've ever read. It's a story about the family you make and the loyalty that takes. If I had to describe it in one sentence, I would say that "The House in the Cerulean Sea" feels like a warm hug. I've bought this book for so many people, honestly, because I want everybody to read it. Please go read it. 

Mike Pierry  
Wow. 

Alyssa Bussard  
Yeah!

Mike Pierry  
You had me at "Antichrist." But like, a warm hug from the Antichrist sounds right up my alley.

Alyssa Bussard  
Okay, well, I'm gonna turn it around on you now and ask you for a nonfiction recommendation.

Mike Pierry  
Oh, really? 

Alyssa Bussard  
Yeah, we talked about this.

Mike Pierry  
Yeah, I guess we did. Okay. So as it happens, I do happen to have a really good non-fiction recommendation. 

Alyssa Bussard  
Well, that's good, because it's literally your job. 

Mike Pierry  
Okay, okay, fine! Here we go. So, you know, I'm a 41-year-old cishet white male. So for me, the internet mostly started off as a fun, positive place with a few dark corners here and there. And then over the years, I've noticed that, at least for me, it's slowly morphed into this dark, disquieting place with a few fun, positive corners here and there. And I've often wondered why and how exactly this change occurred. So what if I told you that internet memes, conspiracy theories like Pizzagate, Donald Trump's presidency and the shadowy group known as Anonymous were all the quite unintentional spawn of one 15-year-old kid from Westchester, New York? Well, Dale Beran's book, "It Came From Something Awful" tells the story of how Christopher Poole - that aforementioned disaffected teen - created the website known as 4chan, which in turn created most of internet culture as we know it, both good and bad. Back in the early days of the internet, it wasn't as easy for people with unusual or fringe opinions to find one another. 4chan created what we might now refer to as a safe space for a particular cohort of teens and young adults to express themselves anonymously. In providing that space. 4chan spawned some really inventive things, but also a lot of things that are indeed quite awful, including the incel movement and GamerGate. If you've ever wondered how the internet got to be the way that it is, "It Came From Something Awful" is fascinating, essential reading - or listening, in my case. I found the audio book on Hoopla. 

Alyssa Bussard  
Oh, that sounds good. 

Mike Pierry  
Yeah, it's a little scary, but it's worth the ride. You know, I'm not the only Mike who works on this podcast.

Alyssa Bussard  
Yeah, I know that. Why are you pointing at the microphone? Are you trying to make me participate in like a dad-joke-level pun about mics and Mikes?

Mike Pierry  
It's a double entendre! You think I'm talking about this microphone, but I'm actually introducing Mike Wheatley and his movie recommendation segment. It's a brilliant segue! 

Alyssa Bussard  
It's really not. 

Mike Pierry  
You love it!

Alyssa Bussard  
I do not. 

Mike Pierry  
Okay, well, fine. Here's Mike Wheatley with a really great movie recommendation.

Mike Wheatley  
Hi, my name is Mike Wheatley, and I'm on staff at the Hamden Public Library. I've also been involved at Best Video Film and Cultural Center, one of the last video film stores in the country here in Hamden, Connecticut since 1985. I'm also addicted to media. On this podcast, I would love to share some quick recommendations of recent films that you can borrow from the library. Perhaps in the future, I can answer some of your questions concerning movies and television, or share some cinema history. 

Mike Wheatley  
This month, my recommendation is a 2020 PG-rated film that got little media attention: "Dream Horse." It is the inspiring true story of early 2000's Dream Alliance, an unlikely race horse bred in a small, down on its luck Welsh mining town by town bartender Jan Vokes - Academy Award nominee Toni Collette. "Homeland"'s Damian Lewis plays an ex-syndicate horse owner and accountant who inspires local animal Blue Ribbon award winner Jen Vokes, who with their very little money and no experience in raising horses, convinces her neighbors to chip in their meager earnings to help raise Dream and compete with the racing elites. Their investment pays off as Dream rises through the ranks and becomes a beacon of hope in their struggling community. Directed by British television director Euros Lyn and written by Neil McKay. Don't let this PG rating fool you into thinking that this is just one of those Disney-like, cliched family horse films. There was much more human than animal interaction in it. And Toni Collette is great. Especially the scenes with her TV couch potato husband Ryan, played brilliantly by "Game of Thrones"'s Owen Teale. I watched it with two other people and can't recommend it enough. Next month is October, and maybe I can recommend a scary film. Have a great day. 

Mike Pierry  
All right. We're going to talk a little bit about libraries and what makes them important because they are actually important, even though we're biased naturally. So should we start by defining what a library is?

Alyssa Bussard  
I'm not sure we need to be that basic. I think most people know what a library is.

Mike Pierry  
Sure, but you know how sometimes you know what a word means. But then you look it up in the dictionary. And you're surprised that there's more to it than you thought at first?

Alyssa Bussard  
Not really. But I guess if that's a thing for you, it could be for some of our audience.

Mike Pierry  
Right, right. Well, the dictionary tells us that a library is "a building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for people to read, borrow or refer to," and that seems pretty obvious. So...

Alyssa Bussard  
Wait, wait, I don't agree. 

Mike Pierry  
You don't agree with the dictionary? 

Alyssa Bussard  
No, I don't. I just... a library is more than just a building that houses books.

Mike Pierry  
Well, yeah, it also has magazines and DVDs. The dictionary covered that. Weren't you listening?

Alyssa Bussard  
Come on, stop joking around. You're a librarian. You know what I mean. A library is more than just materials. 

Mike Pierry  
Oh, sure. Yeah. We know that, but why is it the dictionary doesn't know that?

Alyssa Bussard  
Culture lag? Libraries have evolved so far beyond the dictionary definition of what we are. We're so many things to different people in our community. Yeah, we lend books and DVDs and lots of other things. But we also answer questions, plan and host programs for all ages, provide free computer and Internet access and assistance with the use of technology. And -

Mike Pierry  
And we make podcasts.

Alyssa Bussard  
 Apparently, yeah!

Mike Pierry  
Yeah, I mean, you and I know from experience that a lot of people do use our services and do rely on us for all the things you just mentioned and more.

Alyssa Bussard  
Right? So the library is many things to many people. Maybe the best way to illustrate that would be to ask some people what the library means to them. 

Mike Pierry  
That's a good idea. 

Alyssa Bussard  
I know. That's why we did it. 

Mike Pierry  
Oh, I see. You're doing a segue. So clever.

Alyssa Bussard  
I know it is. So anyway, we asked some of our patrons, why they come to the library and what it means to them. And here's what they had to say.

Patron 1  
The Hamden Library we've been using for about four years since my son was born and we moved here.

Patron 2  
So I moved to Hamden from the Midwest, from St. Louis, Missouri, back in '93. And I, I'm pretty sure I started using the library fairly soon after I moved here. So it's close to 28 years.

Patron 3  
I've lived in Hamden since 1998, I've probably been using the library in some form since then. My kids were born in 2000 and 2005. I definitely used the library a lot when they were younger. I really like - because I live in Whitneyville, I was able to walk with my kids to the Whitneyville Library for some of that children's programming, just being able to walk over there to return a book or to look for one. So I really like how the libraries are also kind of embedded in the different neighborhoods.

Patron 1  
The Miller branch is closest to our house, so we can walk there. So it's kind of like an activity within an activity. And we also have made friends with a lot of the librarians and staff there, and they recognize me and my kids. And so our experience is just really wonderful there.

Patron 2  
Every time I go to check out a book, you know, just, I love to have a quick, just a very quick conversation with the librarian who's checking me out. And, you know, I know most of them now. And, you know, we just enjoy exchanging a few words. And it's just, it's just such a great, you feel more connected somehow to the community, when you're able to have these little, just these little brief conversations where you feel that connection to other people in the community.

Patron 3  
Not to mention, just always, the librarians, especially at Miller at the front desk, are always so nice, they, they recognize me they know, you know, my name, my husband's name, and that's always, you know, makes me feel very welcome. So that's really great.

Patron 1  
The library is a place of endless possibility, you can find out information or learn things about pretty much anything. And it's also just a wonderful place to feel a part of a community, like, we often run into people that we don't see very, very often at the library, or make new friends at the library. So it's just like a really fun place to be.

Patron 2  
I know it's a good source of books, but even more, just slightly, even, ahead of that, I would say is, just, it's like a refuge, it's one of the very few places that you can go when you just want to have some quiet and some focus time. And so I just find the library system to be a marvel as a kind of a traditional institution. I think it is, personally, one of the most valuable institutions in the whole town. And again, I go there for solitude. And I always know I can find a table, you know, a carrel, a chair somewhere.

Patron 1  
Especially when my kids were really little babies and we had just moved to the area, the library was one of our only places where we could go and have like a low or no pressure situation to meet other families and other parents. And we took advantage of a lot of library programming like music hours, storytimes, when the kids were really little just to kind of, like, find our people. So that was really important as a new mom, like, finding my way in a new town and through this new part of my life.

Patron 3  
I just love the freedom of being able to kind of find the information that I want. And I do find it there. Everything from, like I said, "The Scarlet Letter" to the most up-to-date, current books I usually find you guys have. And I love, you know, most times I wait in line and check out I'm ready to pay, but it's the only place you go when you don't have to pay, you know, you just... free! It's just, let me take some books and just leave. I just love that freedom.

Patron 2  
And you don't have to pay anything like you don't, you know, you go to a coffee shop and you at least feel obliged to buy a cup of coffee, right? Yeah, libraries are amazing, you can just walk in for free, they welcome everybody with open arms. And then as I said, initially, there's the amazing access to, you know, the intellectual riches of the ages, all those books on every topic imaginable.

Patron 3  
I didn't realize how, you know, like I said, over the years, how big a community force a library is, you know, especially how you guys will have, around tax time the tax forms are there, or you have all kinds of stuff about people, you know, using the computers for work, and job searching and doing their resumes and literacy things. And it's just a great, great community center.

Patron 2  
Not everybody is fortunate enough to have a stable, reliable internet connection where they live. And a lot of things nowadays have to be done online. And so if people are in a situation where they don't have that reliable access to the internet, where else are you going to get it, you know, where you can sit and take care of, you know, business, if you're applying for jobs, benefits, information, what have you, catching up on email. You don't even have to own a computer or a smartphone, right? There are banks of computers available, and the internet access is free. And...

Patron 1  
I feel like every time we walk into the library, it's a positive experience, especially for my kids, because all of the staff know them and recognize them and make them feel really special when they walk in the door. We've had librarians put aside books for my kids. And as soon as we walk in, they say like, Oh, I, this book came in, and it reminded me of you and like, my kids just totally eat that up. And that makes their whole day. So I can't say that there's ever really been a bad experience at the library. Every time we walk in there, it's like a source of joy. The library was one of the places that we missed the most during the pandemic. So as soon as curbside pickup started back up, again, I'm pretty sure we are one of the first people back in line to use it. But we also took advantage of a lot of digital content, like we were reading through the Libby app and through hoopla. And my kids did a lot of the crafts the like grab and go crafts that kept them busy. 

Patron 2  
Personally, I guess this is my bias as a teacher and I also have two young daughters, you know. I feel pretty passionate about encouraging kids to interact with books from an early age. And you know, what better source of children's books is there, than your local library. So that's, you know, another reason I think it addresses the young people's needs and helps them with their education.

Patron 3  
Well, you know, I'm a teacher, I'm a high school special education teacher, and I do a lot of classes around English and literacy. So I'm always really big about having that availability. And a lot of my students don't have access to books. So the ability and like I said, even the Community branch and the Whitney ball, you know, it makes it easier for some of my students might have that transportation, to actually go and experience and be able to get books, which I think is really great. And the library has been great for my teaching, too. Because sometimes, you know, I don't have money, no budget to buy books, but I can always go and get some books from your library and you know, have them in my classroom for students to read while they're there. And I have done that. And your library is a great place to research. I do a lot of, you know, research, because you do have the most current books, so I can get some of the young adult titles. And I can check them out and see them before I, you know, buy them or recommend them to my kids or do a book talk to my students.

Patron 1  
The only other thing, and it might sound kind of cold, but like, really, the library is a huge money saver for my family. My kids love to read. And if I had to buy a book every time they were interested in reading it, like, we wouldn't be able to afford our mortgage, you know, like, so being able to walk into the library and let them choose anything that they want to read and not... I mean, sure, there might be a late fee or something, but it's not like I'm buying them every single book that interests them. And I think it just helps them like feel curious about the world and like able to sate that appetite for like, I'm interested in unicorns this week, but next week, it's dragons and then I'm not acquiring all these things. It's easy to take them out and bring them back as like their phases come and go. 

Patron 3  
And usually in my book group too, I don't even have to buy books because you guys have them available for me, which is, which is great. And like I said, doesn't matter what topic, right or what, what genre, what title, you guys have the ability and the resources to get it, you know, so that's a real big gift.

Patron 2  
You know, for people who enjoy learning, whether you're a five year old, a kindergartner, or you're, you know, in your 90s, a lot of people like to learn throughout their life. It's one of the things that makes life really worth living, and keeps things exciting. And the library is a really great place, you know, for a very reasonable price to access many, many lifetimes worth of learning. So those are some of the reasons that I feel really very passionate about our library.

Patron 3  
There's just something about being able to kind of wander in there and, and just kind of, you know, have that glorious kind of freedom, again, that I talked about that just go and see what books do I want today. And you know, and always walk around, you find all kinds of new books, and especially the ones that you guys do for your book groups. I've never been in the book groups, but they're always such contemporary, exciting titles. You know, it's always great to be able to see there on your displays what some of the current things are, that are out and about, that that's always just really exciting for me. The other thing I love, besides coming into see the books is I love to be able to see the other patrons that are there, and to see the families that are there. And, you know, the diversity and the welcoming that's provided for our community, which I think is really, really great. So again just thank you for what you do.

Mike Pierry  
Alyssa, you are now the Associate Director of Hamden Public Library.

Alyssa Bussard  
I sure am. 

Mike Pierry  
Gold star for me. So how's that going?

Alyssa Bussard  
It's going pretty well. It's definitely a huge change from my former position as the teen librarian, but overall, it's been such an eye-opening and exciting experience. 

Mike Pierry  
So what do you do all day? 

Alyssa Bussard  
Oh, fun stuff. I get to meet with lots of our staff, stakeholders and partners in the community. It's fun, because I get to be involved in a lot more than I did as a teen librarian. So every day is pretty different. I get to help with some great projects like this podcast, mostly I spend a lot of my time plotting. 

Mike Pierry  
Plotting?

Alyssa Bussard  
Oh, I meant planning. It's my master plan. Make Hamden Public Library the heart of the community. Everyone shall know our name!

Mike Pierry  
Sometimes you scare me a little. 

Alyssa Bussard  
I know. How are you doing? I heard you changed your job as well. 

Mike Pierry  
Uh, yeah, well, you know me, I just try and emulate you so I can grow up to be cool like you someday.

Alyssa Bussard  
Well, you can keep trying. What are you doing now that's different from before? 

Mike Pierry  
Well, I moved from reference to technical services, but I'm really in a hybrid position that's half processing and cataloging and half doing marketing and stuff like working on this podcast. So it's fun.

Alyssa Bussard  
Oh, what is this fun you speak of?

Mike Pierry  
It's a thing that humans do sometimes. You'll learn about it someday.

Mike Pierry  
Melissa Canham-Clyne, welcome to the Hamden Library Podcast.

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Thank you. I'm glad to be here. 

Mike Pierry  
Alyssa and I were speaking earlier about the importance of libraries. And we also heard from some of our patrons, but as our director, I wanted to ask you, what do libraries do for their communities?

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Well, we're a community anchor. And what that means to me and to the staff that work here at the Hamden Public Library is that we grow connections, offer opportunities for creation, and provide knowledge. And through those three things, wisdom is created for the community. It also means that we share the gifts of the human heart. And what I mean by that is we make it possible for people to dive deeply into their own experience and the human experience via books and other media, by sharing space with other people, either that or, actually, to be alone with their own thoughts. And we even share timelessness, because those stories I just talked about, and those experiences, well, they actually become part of your memory and are woven into who you are. And that's a timeless process.

Mike Pierry  
Wow. That's pretty amazing. 

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Yeah. We're time travelers. 

Mike Pierry  
So can you explain for our listeners just a little bit about what a library director does for their library?

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Yeah, I'd be glad to. It was always a mystery to me. I started as a volunteer in a library and then worked my way up. And I always thought of a library director as being very much like a president of a university, and it's very much what the job is. And by that I mean a library director is a steward of a priceless intellectual and creative of assets. And because of that stewardship, the library director has to be involved in many different things from the day to day operations to actually engaging in strategic foresight. And of course, there's always being involved in making sure you have the financial wherewithal and health to do all that.

Mike Pierry  
Right. So going off that, what's the role of a director in a town like Hamden?

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Oh, it's a lot of fun, that's what it is, Michael. 

Mike Pierry  
I know. 

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Well, to begin with, we have a great staff. And so that makes my job very easy, which gives me the chance to focus on very important things such as making sure that our library system - and I always want to say system here in Hamden, because people forget that we are a system. We have four locations. We have our digital branch, we have our two community branches, one, that's the Brundage Community, and also Whitneyville. And then we have our main branch, the Miller Memorial Library. And I want to make sure that each outlet, whether it's digital or physical, actually evolves to the needs of the community that it's serving.

Mike Pierry  
Yeah, so how has that evolved? How has that changed since you started working in public libraries?

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Well, I started as a volunteer, as I said, and that was, I don't want to date myself, but it was before 9/11. But not that far away from 9/11. And what was really important then, for library directors, when they were hiring staff, or looking for somebody was to hire almost intellectual powerhouse, somebody who liked to read somebody who loved books. And that's changed since 9/11. What's more important to library directors, particularly to myself, is hiring people who want to serve people and who actually like the people that they're serving. That's very important to me.

Mike Pierry  
Yeah, I could see that would be important, because we're dealing with the public in a lot of different ways every day. Things have changed, though, recently. So how has this changed over the past, you know, year, year and a half since since COVID?

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Well, if anything this past year has highlighted the need for Hamden to be available to all people and in all capacities as much as possible. I think what it's done for us - and I don't mean to downplay the tragedy of this pandemic, because it has been a tragedy for lots and lots of people. What it has done, I think, is it's made us a more empathetic and resilient institution. It pushed us beyond thinking of our library, the Hamden library, as a book palace, we're known far and wide as being a excellent collection. But when people can't necessarily get a hold of that collection, because of sheltering in place, or whatnot, we had to figure out how to serve that need, the need for knowledge, the need for connection, the need for escape. And we did that. We did that by going back to what the core value of a library is. And the core value of the library isn't books, like a lot of people when they think of library, they think "book," but our core value is trust. We are probably the most trusting public institution ever created, at least in the United States, because we give things away for free, because we know they're going to come back because people value that. So we use that trust in ourselves as public servants, as a library board, as wise governors and with our town government, we placed our trust in them to keep us safe. And to make sure that we were doing things to keep our patrons safe when they were returning to the building, whether it was initially through contactless services, or as it is now by being able to come into our buildings.

Mike Pierry  
Yeah, so it's a kind of a two way street, you're saying. It's a, we're a trusting and also trusted organization. The public library is still a place that garners a lot of faith and trust in people. And I think rightly so.

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Absolutely. I know that there was a Pew poll a few years ago, and they asked people what the most trusted profession and institution was, and public librarian and libraries came out near the top. So it makes me happy.

Mike Pierry  
Speaking of things that make you happy, what kind of outcomes make you feel happy, or at least satisfied that you're doing a good job as director of this library? Like, how do you measure your own success?

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Well, I measure my own success in the success of the patrons and the staff. So for example, when we hear back from patrons who, for example, somebody who has applied for a job and has really worked with the librarians to figure out how to apply for a job, how to write a resume, how to post a resume, and that person comes back and they found a job, that's success. It's success, even the fact that that person knew they could come into the library and ask for that kind of help and that our librarians are able to provide that kind of help. That's success. Yesterday, we had a family that was in here for the first time, and it was getting to be near closing time. And they were the last patrons in the building. And the father said to his daughter, "We have to go now, we have to go now." And she said, "No, no, but we just got here." And he looked at me and he said, "Well, I'm sorry about this. This is our first time ever bringing our daughter to the library." And she was about six years old. And he said, "She just doesn't want to leave. She loves it here." And right then and there, the little girl chimed in, "When do you open tomorrow?" So to me that's success.

Mike Pierry  
Yeah, I love stories like that. Of course we all do. So you actually started here in January 2020. Is there anything that you would have loved to do that you didn't get to do because of the demands of social distancing, etc?

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Yes, one of my big goals that I had for the year 2020, going into 2021, was to actually host a town-wide one-book read. I had brought it up right before the pandemic shut us in. I brought that up with the board, I brought that up with the mayor's office here in town, and everybody seemed very excited about the prospect. But even though reading is generally a solitary action. And again, I say generally, because sometimes people read to other people, or with other people in the same time, the actual discussions and activities that would be centered around that book just couldn't take place because of social distancing. And making sure that we could get the books out that we wanted to, that would have been hard, too so we had to put that on the back burner. And in a way, I'm glad we did, because now there's more interest from different stakeholders in town who would like to be involved in a one-town, one-book read.

Mike Pierry  
So you do believe we'll be doing that in the future? 

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
I do think so. I think so. We might even go more regional, and not just Hamden, we might look to include Cheshire or New Haven, or both. 

Mike Pierry  
Oh, that would be really cool. That would be really interesting, because it's always interesting when you get more different types of people and their points of view on things. So I'm excited for that. 

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Yay!

Mike Pierry  
I think we sort of touched on this earlier, but what ways do you think Hamden Public Library innovated and adapted for our community during the pandemic?

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Well, I have to say that I am absolutely blown away by the creativity and the innovation of the Hamden Public Library staff. And that's all staff, that staff that's part time, all the way to people who have been here for decades upon decades, people who have a master's degree in library sciences, or people who are still working on their college degree, or just finished high school. Everybody moved out of their comfort zone to make sure that we could provide library services in whatever capacity it happened to be during that time in the pandemic. So within one business day we had effectively transformed our web page, which is a great web page, into a digital branch. And by saying digital branch, what I mean is not only could people download movies to stream, music to stream, or books to read, comic books to take a look at -

Mike Pierry  
 Which they did do a lot of. 

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Oh, They sure did. That skyrocketed. That kind of usage skyrocketed. In fact, we were one of the highest circulations, digital circulations in the state. But the other thing that we did is, we made sure the web page allowed people to sign up for Zoom programs or to attend our fantastic You Tube storytimes and other activities that we posted on YouTube. And staff made videos for the YouTube channel and also for the website to help people navigate new services that we started to offer. We partnered with a organization called the Niche Academy, which allowed people to do online courses and study, and we had staff that created tutorials on how to use that. And of course, everybody was Zooming. But not everybody knew how to Zoom so well. So staff made different tutorials on Zoom. And one of our staff Zoom tutorials, in fact, has garnered - in library land I think this is pretty cool - over 2000 views. 

Mike Pierry  
Wow. 

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Yeah! 

Mike Pierry  
That's like "library viral."

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Sure is. The other cool thing, as you well know, is we did the open mic nights. 

Mike Pierry  
Yes. 

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
And they were well attended. We had people from Europe who dropped in to share their talents.

Mike Pierry  
We sure did. We had people from all over. It was very exciting. I hope we can do those again. I had a lot of fun being the host of that.

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
You did an awesome job, and the comedians trying to do a comedy routine on Zoom. They did an awesome job. It was amazing.

Mike Pierry  
Yeah, I know. It was really great. It was really heartening to see that kind of energy happening during the height of the pandemic, the height of lockdown, just people kind of pouring their hearts out in that way. It was pretty special. So I'm hoping we get to do more of that sort of thing in the future.

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Me too. The other things as you know that we started were the seed library because everybody was starting to get into gardening and sustainability. We also partnered up with the Hamden Arts Commission to have people journal their experience of sheltering in place. And we have those journals for people to come in and take a look at. They'll be here in the library for as long as the library is standing. And people can actually come in and go to the Historical Society and take a look. Right now they're on display so you don't even have to do that.

Mike Pierry  
Yeah. So it seems like a lot of the things that we that we came up with a lot of those innovations or adaptations are going to be a part of our library, even after it's safe to go back to pre-pandemic services and activities.

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
 Absolutely right. I think the most important adaptation that will remain with us is a change in our institutional thinking, actually. We're becoming more outwardly focused. The pandemic really hit home that library services need to be and are more than just brick and mortar services.

Mike Pierry  
Absolutely. So to switch gears a little bit, just speaking in terms of comparatively, do you think that our library is approximately on target for what libraries must or can be compared to other libraries the same size or in similar communities?

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Well, I try not to play the compare game with other communities or libraries, because each situation is different. But I really think that the Hamden public library is well on its way to becoming a stronger community anchor. I think that those comparisons, again, the reason I don't like to make them is because they create an atmosphere of learned helplessness or defeatism sometimes among the staff or even the board members. 

Mike Pierry  
Yeah. 

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
And that's not helpful. It's more helpful to think about, "what are the challenges that keep us from being more involved in adding to the value of life here in town?" And then finding the strategies to overcome those obstacles. There's a saying I like that goes something like this, I forget who said it, but it said, "good libraries lend books, great libraries build communities." And that's where we're going. 

Mike Pierry  
That's great. So yeah, how do you see libraries like ours adapting or innovating in the near future, like in the next one to five years?

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Well, it's gonna be a challenge, I won't lie Michael. And I'm glad that you're here. Because you were one of the resilient staff members I've been talking about. Our staff will not necessarily grow any larger. I hate to be the Debbie Downer there. So that means we have to find means to work smarter and more collaboratively with other organizations, institutions, businesses, and people, not only here in Hamden, but throughout the region. The hours that our buildings are open should not be seen by the public, or by the Legislative Council, or anybody, that that's the only time library staff is working. Because we're working all the time, digitally, behind the scenes. We're doing that work to make sure that the library is a transformative institution for everybody.

Mike Pierry  
And what about the slightly farther out future, more 5 to 10 years or so?

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Now, this is where you really get deep into my fantasy life. The thing that always surprises me - I'm an Army brat. And so I didn't necessarily think that I would end up in New England. And I've learned a lot about living in New England, and in Connecticut, and one of the things that I've learned is how much each municipality values its own institutions. So here in Connecticut, you know, we have 191 public library outlets for 170 municipalities. That's a lot of libraries. That's a lot of library directors, that's a lot of library staff. And that's a lot of very fortunate patrons. The downside to that is each of us, each of those libraries or municipalities, well, we're competing with each other for the same stakes. The same monies, the same grants, the same users. And I want to say generally, it's a healthy competition. Because we make each other better. We share a lot of ideas. It's one of the most cooperative competitions I've ever seen. But on the other hand, is it necessary? Is it fiscally the way for services to roll out? I'm not sure. And I think it's going to be a big challenge for Connecticut libraries to figure out what regionalism means to delivering library services.

Mike Pierry  
Yeah, I mean, I know a lot of other states, they have a county system. So there's a lot more sharing of resources in that way. So Connecticut's, I don't know if unique but almost unique in that way. So yeah, that's an exciting thing to think about for the future.

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Exciting and terrifying. I'm talking about doing away with my job.

Mike Pierry  
So what library stakeholders do you think might help our library adapt and innovate in the future?

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Well, this is very specific to our library, and also to the town of Hamden. So if you live here in Hamden, you know that the town has some fiscal challenges ahead of us. And if you don't live here in Hamden, Connecticut, look it up on the web, go to your local library, and ask to find out about the fiscal challenges in Hamden. One of the things that I know for sure, is that the library needs to start looking for regenerative funding. And again, I'm speaking as a library director: the financial health of this institution is a primary responsibility of mine. And what I mean by regenerative funding is we need to not just rely on taxpayers' monies, or donors' gifts to the library, but actually creating a foundation that can be a viable living institution of its own that financially can supplement and mitigate problems or challenges that the library might have and help us grow. This is pretty common, by the way at other libraries. So it's not like this radical new idea, it's pretty common practice. I don't know if that's a fortunate thing, or just a sad telling of the times that libraries have to resort to library foundations to help them. And I just want to say, when you're thinking about library foundations, it's really not about replacing the primary funding responsibility of a municipality, it's actually about extending the possibility of library services into all community members' lives. 

Mike Pierry  
Yeah, absolutely. If you feel comfortable answering this, are there any political or economic forces that might make it more difficult or more challenging for the Hamden public library to keep up with other libraries in terms of adaptation and innovation.

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
I'm quite comfortable answering this. I think as a library, the Hamden Public Library, our staff, our board, our administration, well, we need to do a better job at telling our story of what we do. As I said earlier in the interview, you know, a lot of people just think of a library as a place to go get books for their kids. And then once their kids get to be that grumpy age where they don't want to hang out with their parents, you stop going to the library. Or they think, oh, you know, that's where frugal people go to save a little bit of money and get books, but the library goes way beyond that every single day. And we need to share the stories of how we go beyond the pages in a book. We impact people in so many different avenues of everyday life. We actually make Hamden a stronger, happier place to live. But we need to share those stories, or we'll never rise above the ancient stereotypes about the public library being a silent book repository where we all go around shushing people and we get grumpy if too many people are in the library, because that's actually not who we are. And it's not what we do. But seriously, we cannot blame people for not knowing about us if we keep our light only for those in the know.

Mike Pierry  
Alright, that sounds like a good place to end it. Melissa, thank you so much for doing this. I really enjoyed this interview, and I think people are gonna get a lot out of it.

Melissa Canham-Clyne  
Thank you, Michael. Thank you for stepping up to the challenge of doing the podcast.

Mike Pierry  
My pleasure. Well, that about wraps it up for our first episode. How do you feel about it? 

Alyssa Bussard  
Good!

Mike Pierry  
I'm glad but I was actually addressing our listeners.  

Alyssa Bussard  
Oh, right. 

Mike Pierry  
Sorry, I should have been more direct. Dear listeners: did you enjoy this experience? If so, please, please, please rate and review us on Apple podcasts or on whatever platform you get your podcasts from. It will help us enormously. 

Alyssa Bussard  
And please tell your friends and family about us. 

Mike Pierry  
Yes.

Alyssa Bussard  
Word of mouth is so important. Thank you so much for listening. We'll be back next month with our super fun, super spooky October episode. 

Mike Pierry  
Yeah, she's not kidding. We are going full Halloween on you all next month. We'll have some local folk tales and some other stuff... 

Alyssa Bussard  
Like how Connecticut is considered one of the most demon infested states.

Mike Pierry  
Yeah! Wait, what?

Alyssa Bussard  
Anyway, stay tuned and thanks for listening!

Transcribed by https://otter.ai