Christine Faris believes in the personal touch. Offering it is one of her favorite parts of her job. The new director of the Haverford Township Free Library, who was appointed in September, is “as happy checking books in and out as I am working in my office.”
One of the personal services the library offers that Faris offers as an example of “what the library does that might surprise people” is the Homebound Delivery service. Volunteers deliver most library material to Haverford Township residents of any age who cannot leave their homes, whether temporarily or permanently. HTFL was the first in Delaware County to offer it, and is still one of the few who do. The librarians keep a database of the home bound patron’s likes and dislikes so they can suggest new titles, “so we offer that personal touch as well.”
Faris enjoys meeting people and helping them with their library needs. Take, for instance, the morning of our interview. As she was taking mail to the mailbox in front of the library, a man approached to tell her he wished the library was still open on Friday mornings. “We got into conversation, and come to find out, he does children’s programs. Talking to people, finding out what their talents are, what their creativity is, makes me happy.”
Faris’s own creativity includes knitting. She still runs the Friday morning “Tea and Stitch” program where needleworkers of all stripes come together for companionship and creativity. Right now, Christine is knitting a pair of socks in moss green, rust, and French blue stripes, but she also enjoys cross-stitch and sewing.As pleasant as most of her days are, the job is not without its challenges. In the past two years, the state has decimated the library’s budget. Though HTFL has the most customer visits of all Delaware county libraries, the institution suffered a 21% budget cut in 2010 with a further 12% cut from the fiscal 2011 budget. The county’s contributions to the budget have been pared as well. Although the library holds the county designation of “Area Resource Center” and is contracted to provide training to the staff of smaller area libraries as well as particular reference materials, they no longer receive the funding that once accompanied the designation.
Faris recently presented her budget to the Township in hopes of making up some of the shortfall. Of course the Township has its own budget woes. For the third year in a row, there will not be any increase in the budget. The best Faris can hope for is $20,000.
To put that in context, reopening on Friday mornings and Saturday afternoons,–as the gentleman Faris met earlier and many others would like—would cost $39,900.
All this comes at a time when library use has risen dramatically. The library is seeing greater attendance at library programs as people search for low-to-no-cost social entertainment. People are coming in to use library computers because more and more patrons can’t afford to buy or fix their own computers or printers. “People are also in the library job hunting. Computer usage is going through the roof. We’re busy!”
Amid the shrinking budgets and increased usage, Faris aims to be fiscally responsible, although this year they’ll likely have to tap into their reserves. “We have to be prudent, to balance our budget,” she explains. “We know the building is old, and is going to need repairs.”
That’s why a new facility is among Faris’s goals for the future of the library. She’d like to see the library move to new digs “with 20 times the number of parking spaces.” (The library currently has only 17.) Faris imagines this new library as state of the art. “People still want to read books, and for that, we’re grateful.” But she’d like to increase the facility’s tutoring and programming spaces. She would also improve the library’s technology so that they could broadcast their events. She explains, “We don’t even have cable TV right now.”
Another item on Faris’s wish list is adequate funding so that HTFL could provide continuing education opportunities for the staff. She’d like to hire professionals to give classes or offer tuition reimbursement so those who so desire could earn the master’s in library science (MLS).
Faris wishes she had such a program when she returned to graduate school to pursue her MLS. She was halfway through her program when her husband passed away. Having her library job to come to every day helped her get through that difficult time. Faris, who began her eighteen-year career at HTFL as a circulation assistant, sums up her new position this way, “To become director of the library has blown me away.”
The Friends of the Haverford Township Free Library extend their heartiest congratulations to Christine Faris on her new position and offer their support as she undertakes to improve the library.