By Peter H. Milliken
Significant innovations have occurred in the 15-branch Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County under the administration of Heidi Daniel, who became director of the system a year ago.
Daniel succeeded the retiring Carlton Sears last July 18.
Most notable are the changes to the summer-reading program.
“We’ve refocused it to be more of a learning and literacy experience, as opposed to a program that is just fun,” Daniel said.
Consistent with that theme, books have been added this year to the prizes for participating children.
“Research shows that a book in a child’s home is one of the most important factors for lifelong educational attainment,” Daniel said.
Books now will join an array of prizes for those meeting summer-reading goals, which includes Dairy Queen treats, bowling at Camelot Lanes and Mahoning Valley Scrappers baseball tickets.
All participants will get a free pass to visit the Oh Wow! Children’s Museum in downtown Youngstown to further promote summer learning experiences.
Also, this year, Nick Bruel, author of the Bad Kitty books, will visit the libraries to conduct public programs. Children who’ve read at least 30 hours in the summer reading program will be invited to meet Bruel at a library-sponsored Bad Kitty Breakfast Bash.
Everyone is invited to meet Bruel at 2 p.m. July 30 at the Austintown branch and at 7 p.m. that day at the Boardman branch.
Other summer-reading changes this year are the addition of an adult component and of the ability to register for summer reading on the library’s website, libraryvisit.org, where parents and children can rate and write reviews of books they’ve read.
Another innovation is the “Hot Picks” program, which displays best-selling books on library tables and reduces the lending period for best-sellers from the usual three weeks to seven days to make popular books available for more patrons to borrow.
Recently, the library system introduced on its website free on-line “Learn for Life” courses on such topics as personal finance, photography and writing one’s life memoir. That series also includes continuing education courses for various professionals.
Still other innovations are the lending of laptop computers to patrons for use within the Austintown, Boardman, Newport and main libraries to extend computer availability beyond the libraries’ desktop computers and the addition of faxing and scanning services for main library patrons and faxing services for Austintown branch patrons.
In her year here, Daniel said she has learned of library patrons’ preferences in a series of informal community conversation meetings in the county as the library engages in its strategic planning process.
“People want to come into the library and use it as a gathering place,” to attend library programs and meet with their neighbors, Daniel said. “It’s clear that people do want programs on jobs and computer skills, but they also want programs on health and fitness and healthy lifestyles,” she added.
“We need to look at flexibility of our spaces moving forward so that we can meet what the community has said that they want,” Daniel added.
A good example of that flexibility will be illustrated at the new $2 million Tri-Lakes branch, which will open at 10 a.m. Monday, and which will feature a meeting room with a collapsible, glass-walled partition that will allow it to be converted into reading and study space when not needed for meetings.
Daniel said she hopes to break ground next spring for the new Canfield library on the same site as the existing Canfield branch.
Another high priority is to keep library staff trained and updated on the latest information technology and on methods of helping patrons with their job searches, Daniel said.
Other new services planned for the near future are a mobile printing service, in which patrons will be able to send documents from their home computers or mobile devices through the library’s website to a printer at any library branch; a space at main library where patrons can test new tablets, computers and other information technologies; and the capability for patrons to obtain live-streaming of video and music from the library website at any time.
“Technology is a big component of what we need to keep doing,” Daniel said. “We really need to be more progressive in introducing new technologies to our community before they become old hat, so to speak. We want to be on the cutting edge, so that our community is on the cutting edge,” she added.
As for her management style, Daniel said: “I try to be very accessible to both the community and the staff. I try to visit my locations as often as I can. I am a very hands-on manager, but, at the same time, I make sure I don’t get in the way of my staff getting their job done.”
A sign on Daniel’s office door asks only that those who wish to speak with her knock first.
“She is very accessible to staff and patrons and the public,” and is a good listener, Janet Loew, library communications and public relations director, said of Daniel. “She’s a great teamwork builder among the staff, and yet she respects everyone’s areas of responsibility,” Loew added.
“She’s extremely good at analyzing all of the elements in any decision that she makes and making good, sound decisions,” Loew said.
A member of the Youngstown Rotary Club and a board member of Wick Neighbors, Daniel resides in Cornersburg with her husband, David; son, Jack, 5; and daughter, Kate, 3.
Daniel is a voracious reader, whose eclectic interests include leadership and business books, fantasy, fiction, best-sellers and children’s books.
“It’s really a great place to raise a family,” Daniel said of the Mahoning Valley, citing the presence of urban and rural settings close to each other and the absence of traffic congestion.
“I feel really lucky to be living here with my family because we have so many different things to do,” including hiking in local parks and attending festivals, concerts and library programs, she concluded.