Hartford Public Library
By Elizabeth Kennedy
The Park Branch Hartford Library is one of the ten fixed libraries of Hartford (not including the one library on wheels). Established in May 1928, it first began in a small rented store at 876 Park Street. In September 1939, the city moved it to 815 Broad Street. In August 1975, it was moved again to its present location at 744 Park Street. At a size of 2,000 square feet, the library is a one-story square, blue painted cinderblock building that can be found at the corner of Babcock Street and Park Street.
The library’s location is very accessible and appropriate, considering that Park Street serves as a major artery for Latino community of Hartford. It acts as more than just a library but also a space and place on Park Street that is not ruled by commercialism but by community advancement through education.
Architecturally, the building’s inside is made out of cinderblock and red brick. The cinderblocks are painted white but the red brick is left as is. The inside has a brown peppered colored carpet and has all wooden furniture from the shelving to tables and chairs. Eight small 6×6 inch colorful, decorative windows line the upper back middle cinderblock wall between two long windows. They brighten up the space as each window has a different color that shines about the room when sunlight hits it.
It is on a corner of Park Street and Babcock Street. (You can arrive at Babcock Street from Affleck Street. Affleck turns into Babcock Street once it intersects with park Street.) South of the library on Park Street is “El Mercado,” an indoor food and commercial goods market. Across the street from “El Mercado” on the other corner going South on Park Street is the Hartford Fire Department. Directly parallel, across the street from the library is the Caribbean Grocery and Deli and next to as well as north of the library is another restaurant.
With seven long tall windows, like the one window seen in the photograph above, thin white blinds hang down but are not drawn closed. Various kinds of books (in English as well as Spanish) line the bottom of the windows and an American flag hangs almost half of the length from the top of the second window from the left. When on Park Street facing the building, the library’s entrance is found to the far left and is made of cement and painted solidly bright yellow and royal blue. At the entrance, next to the door, hangs an announcement cork board open for the community to use to post events and information about and for the community to know.
Posted on the glass door’s entrance is its mission statement as well as a sign that appears to be a code of conduct statement with regards to the library. The Code of Conduct sign is above the mission statement and reads:
The city of Hartford has zero tolerance for drugs, alcohol, harassment, discrimination or violence of any kind in the workplace. Threatening or offensive language and/or actions directed at staff, customers or visitors will not be tolerated and will be handled swiftly and appropriately.
Below this sign appears the mission statement which states that: “In the city of Hartford, our goal is to foster individual respect and dignity and to make a safe, healthy and productive environment in which to work and conduct business.” Its hours of operation are also posted on the entrance door in English as well as Spanish.
Its hours of operation are Mondays through Thursdays 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Fridays 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Although the library is closed on the weekend, its operation hours allows for 34 open hours per week. This allows for a monthly attendance of about 1,656 visits per month, 3,131 items borrowed per month, and 1,125 questions answered per month. The library holds twenty four thousand and one hundred and eleven items and has six public access computers. Even better is that the library puts on various Programs throughout each month and average a program attendance of about 130 people attending programs per month.
The Park Branch Library serves 9,323 people in the Hartford community. Out of that number, 2,864 served were school aged youth with 82.5 percent of that youth receiving free and reduced school lunches. Additionally, from the 9,323 people, 7.3 percent were owners that occupied housing and sixty three point eight percent were single headed households with children under 18 years of age.
Many community groups benefit from the library and its accessible location including more than one hundred and twenty five businesses, thirteen churches, ten educational institutions, two parks and eleven social agencies.
Upon entering, the visitor instantly gets the sensation that this space is designed to be helpful and advantageous for the community. Directly to the right of the entrance, a huge selection of pamphlets regarding health care, civil liberties and rights, educational opportunities, career building and training and free public publications such as the Hartford Advocate and flyers connected to the Arts among many others are located on a shelf next to the window. Nearby there is mobile metal shelving unit on wheels that holds tax forms (ex. 1040EZ forms etc.). Materials regarding “Learn to Read” workshops as well as more general information for things such as the “TV digital transition guidelines” and free events can also be found by its entrance. The library caters to using the space heavily for the children of the community, as it appears that the center and majority of the space is designated to bilingual, English and Spanish, resources and books for children. There are posters on the wall in English and in Spanish, catering to the multi-cultural needs of the community as well as the rich environment echoed throughout the city streets just outside the library walls.
Not only books can be found at this library but a stack that shelves various popular magazines in English as well as Spanish such as VIBE, Ebony, Hola, Latin Beat, Vanidades and O among others. Films in various languages can be found at the library.
Park Branch has increased its visibility in the neighborhood as a resource through outreach and networking with community organizations. SAMA (Spanish American Merchants Association) is conducting a traffic study for Park Street and has a Park Street enhancement project. The City and Broad-Park Development Corporation are involved in many projects in the Frog Hollow Neighborhood. The focus is on rehabilitating multi-family buildings, including new construction geared for low-income first time homeowners. Park Branch is also on their list for relocation. Park Branch provides service to a variety of community agencies, including North and South Frog Hollow Neighborhood Revitalization Zones, Sanchez and Burns Schools, day care programs, the Salvation Army, and a family resource center that focuses on service to Hispanics. Services provided include publicity for community events, school mandated volunteer community service, programs geared to the community, and voter registration for the public.
Its Spanish collection draws many out-of-town customers who are particularly interested in newspapers, videos, music, magazines, and books. Mobility continues to be a significant trend in the area. As families grow more affluent and mature, they tend to move to more residential areas, while those with fewer resources remain. Younger families move in and out of the area in search of a better life.
Its staff has made an effort to involve themselves with community activities through the Frog Hollow Team. An increased effort has been made to improve the outside appearance of the Branch, which includes regular sweeping, mulching around the hedges and working with Hartford Public Library facilities staff and the landlord to find alternative ways to combat trash.
Park Branch staff is working with neighborhood and community organizations to promote library services to the Spanish speaking population by using the library as a meeting place, providing additional story hour to daycare groups and promoting the rich resources, including the advanced technology that the branch has to offer. Noted on one of the community announcement boards that can be seen from the front of the building through one its long windows, the North Frog Hollow Public Safety Committee oftentimes holds its board meetings inside the building, emphasizing the library’s commitment to bridging the gap between local social public institutions in different sectors and the community of Hartford. HELPNET will provide a stronger link with the Maria Sanchez School and D. F. Burns School by giving them access to library holdings. Park Branch is part of the new HELPNET II Centralized phone system. In addition, Park branch is also providing Internet and data services to the Frog Hollow Firehouse using the telecom equipment installed for HELPNET I. Library materials are an important resource to the Hartford community of Park street. Staff is working to increase the number of book and non-items in Spanish as well as electronic resources.
According to the librarian Linda, she said, “The library is a family place. It is a place interested in the community, the children, adults, all.” The library has the opportunity to learn about and take advantage of other services like the free access to the computers and the internet. One of the librarians named Leticia Cotto said that the library and its workers adapt to the needs of the community. Each year the library’s focuses can change in order to better serve the Latino community and a history that reflects those changes. Therefore, now, more Spanish materials in this branch have increased. When this neighborhood was mostly French, the collection changed depending on the branch profiles and its history.
Importance to Puerto Ricans and the Puerto Rican Heritage Trail
The library is a vital instrument in the educational process and serves as a powerful force in the lives of children. Historically, in any neighborhood, libraries have had a powerful influence on student performance. Libraries are an important part of any group of people.
The Park Branch Public Library has extensive archives of the history of Hartford, especially those relating to Puerto Rican immigration, social movements, culture, legislation, leaders, politics and more. The library holds priceless information from archived newspapers, flyers, and photographs among other souvenirs relating to the subject matter of the file. For example, a comprehensive file documenting most of the influential Puerto Rican leaders from the Hartford community, such as Maria Sanchez, known as the godmother of the Puerto Rican community in Hartford, can be found at the library. For access to such information, you need to ask one of the librarians and they will take out what you need. Thus, the library is a great source for carrying out research about the Hartford community, especially Puerto Ricans. In addition, it is a resource for the community by the community.
Each Hartford public library has a specialty. The specialty of the Park Branch is its Hispanic/Latino resources, specifically literature, history and language development. In many ways, the library’s branch on Park Street originated out of the need to serve the majority Latino, at first meaning Puerto Rican, community localized in that area of Hartford. Similar to other organizations of Park Street like SAMA and Mi Casa, which first originated to serve the Puerto Rican community’s needs, the library emerged under similar circumstances. Those needs to serve the Puerto Rican community set the precedent for community building and organizing, allowing the library to later easily transition into a useful space and place of community for all peoples, especially diverse groups of Latinos in Hartford.
The Park Branch, as well as the other branches in the Hartford Public Library system, uses the model “Listen, Learn and Link,” which his based upon the idea that any organization needs to go outside of its group and to engage with the community or it will implode. They aim to bring outside energy into the library in order to enrich and improve its services to the Latino as well as greater Hartford community.