In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Phyllis Grissom, vice chair of the Library Advisory Board, discusses the role of the library advisory board and explains how residents can get involved.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For an unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Rachel Behrndt: Thanks so much for joining me. Could you describe what the Library Advisory Board does and what its function is?
Phyllis Grissom: We meet six times a year. There is a representative from every council district in the city and the mayor has an at-large representative. The staff will give us reports on things that are going on and give us some ideas about what is coming up. Usually, we have a strategic conversation about something in the future or something that we’ve heard from residents that we’d like to see the library explore. It’s kind of the group that is the gap between the council and the library, but also the public. Patrons bring ideas, thoughts and feedback to the library staff who have slightly different perspectives than a council member. The council members have so many constituents. They have so many responsibilities. We’re very much focused on the library and the needs of the library patrons. And so we stand in that gap and make sure that line of communication is still open.
If you go:
The library advisory board meets every other month. Its next meeting will take place in August. You can learn more about the Library Advisory Board along with other boards and commissions here.
Behrndt: What are some examples of things that the advisory board might address?
Grissom: One vexing problem has been people who are experiencing homelessness spending time in our facilities, particularly the downtown or the central branch. The library is grappling with that problem and trying to understand the full scope of it. It goes way beyond what the library can do, but it is something that we have to work with. So as they were putting those rules and regulations in place, we had a really robust conversation in our advisory table about things that patrons might be experiencing or things that we wanted to be sure to watch out for, making sure we weren’t taking only one perspective. We were able, I think, to lend some perspective about what the citizens are concerned about or what citizens may experience when they’re in the library. So I was glad to be a part of that discussion. We talked about that several weeks before they actually put those policies in place. I think we were able to really look at a holistic solution.
You know, the library advisory board doesn’t make policy, we just advise. Then on the fun side, the library went fine free. We had a lot of discussions about the implications of going fine free on the financial side, on the patron side. It would change circulation, bring more people into the library. We looked to other cities and saw if they were doing it. Both of those were great, important discussions and a good representation of what we typically do on the board.
Behrndt: If residents are really invested in our libraries or just want to get involved in some way, how can they participate in what the Advisory Board does?
Grissom: Our meetings are open to the public. We hardly ever have anyone come. There’s a call-in option. We’ve had a few people come and comment. Usually they just want to ask a question or comment about something that’s happened within the library positively or negatively. That is certainly the most obvious way, I think the other thing that we try to do as board members and that really anybody can do is just go to the library. Go to the programs, tune in to what’s happening. There’s a really great calendar on the city’s website if you subscribe to other neighborhood social media like Nextdoor or maybe you have a Facebook group. The city of Fort Worth library has a Facebook group and Instagram, just a number of ways to get involved.
Author visits, certainly in the summer crafting and storytime and other things for the kids. We also have a Facebook group that’s an online book club that we started during the pandemic and now it continues. Sometimes it takes a minute to just kind of focus and plug in and go, what is the library offering? Try a couple things. And I think most patrons or most residents would be surprised to know how many cool things are going on at the library.
Behrndt: Why do you think libraries are something that’s really special that the city offers and should be thought about and prioritized?
Grissom: It’s one of the last free places you can go just to gather and hang out with members of your community. It’s sort of your second living room, that’s really helped me see the library as a place to gather. Certainly you could check out a book. There are printers there, computers there, spaces to gather with a small group of people. You get to just be together with your fellow residents, not necessarily people you know. You may meet a friend, you may meet a neighbor. I think in a time where we’re all trying to figure out: What does community mean right now? And how do we come together in a place besides social media or Zoom? The library is a great opportunity to do that. Most people just think of it as books, but really, it is a place for community to grow.
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.