Fort Worth’s new library director discusses learning hubs, future of central library

dfwnewsa | March 3, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Fort Worth’s new library director discusses learning hubs, future of central library

Midori Clark stands in Summerglen Library in north Fort Worth. City administration hired her in November and she started work in January. (Rachel Behrndt | Fort Worth Report)
” data-medium-file=”https://fortworthreport.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/Midori-scaled.jpg?fit=300%2C200&quality=89&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://fortworthreport.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/Midori-scaled.jpg?fit=780%2C520&quality=89&ssl=1″>
On a sunny Friday afternoon, the Summerglen Library branch in north Fort Worth is bustling with patrons doing anything but reading. Some are participating in a weekly Spanish class, others are casting their ballots during early voting and playing games on desktops. 

Sponsored

This scene represents the future of libraries, said Midori Clark, Fort Worth Public Library’s newest director. 

“That’s really the shift in the public and staff viewing libraries as book warehouses into community hubs for learning,” Clark said. “When I come to a library, it’s not going to just be stuffed to the gills with books but it’s going to be this place where I can connect with somebody who’s going to teach me how to do something that I’m interested in.” 

Clark began her career as a journalist before rising through the ranks to lead libraries in Pueblo County and Aurora, Colorado. The two careers are similar because both are about connecting people with the information they’re looking for. 

Growing up in a biracial household shaped Clark’s view of libraries. As a child whose first language was Japanese, the library represented a consistently welcoming place to learn and explore. 

Clark started working for the city in January and inherited 240 full-time employees in Fort Worth, a $26 million budget and 18 library branches. Among the biggest challenges facing the Fort Worth Public Library is keeping up with population growth and thinking innovatively about what services residents need from their library. 

“I love that in Fort Worth, we have many neighborhoods coming forward to constantly ask me about, ‘When are we getting a library in our neighborhood?’” Clark said. “I will talk to anybody who wants to have a public library in their neighborhood … that makes it difficult when you have a limited amount of resources, trying to decide where the next library is gonna go.” 

As libraries expand, they will fulfill a new purpose for community members, Clark said. While overall library traffic and checkouts are down nationwide, in Fort Worth 86,000 people participate in library programming and the library has seen a 22% increase in checkouts through the Libby app. 

“Fort Worth is a city of readers,” Clark said. 

Fort Worth’s outgoing director Manya Shorr produced a strategic plan for the library in 2019, outlining strategic goals for the library including reducing barriers to accessing library materials and contributing to the city’s arts and culture scene. 

That master plan extended through 2021, but Clark said she plans to continue implementing the strategies and goals such as expanding library programming until the library goes through the process of forming a new plan. Even then, Clark said, the foundation laid out in the 2019 plan will likely be carried through to any new strategic plan. 

When looking for a director to replace Shorr, city leadership sought a forward-thinking director who would seek out new ideas and implement new programs all while managing an expanding library system with multiple branches. 

“We were specifically looking for that candidate that we felt had the track record of demonstrating that they could find new ideas, implement new programs but also just lead people to be on board with that,” said Jesica McEachern, an assistant city manager who participated in the hiring process. 

See also  How will EPA rules on ‘forever chemicals’ affect Fort Worth water? City says it’s ready

The city also sought to choose the new library director from a diverse pool of applicants. In an industry dominated by white women, city leadership wanted to pick from a pool of candidates that reflects Fort Worth’s diverse community, McEachern said. 

Sponsored

The salary range posted for the director position is $160,000 to $190,000. 

Both the strategic plan and a facilities master plan that was finalized in 2020 emphasized renovating older existing libraries and building new branches in high-growth areas in the west, northwest and south. The facilities master plan set a goal of creating at least 0.3 square feet of branch library space per Fort Worth resident.

The facilities master plan also outlined a specific vision for the city’s central library, which includes significantly providing more space to be used for a variety of purposes from independent study to hosting large cultural events.

Many of the goals outlined in the facilities plan are still priorities for the library, Clark said, including building new libraries and renovating existing ones. The library plans to reference suggestions in the facilities master plan when making funding requests for the upcoming 2026 bond program. 

However, plans for changes to the central library have taken a turn after the library’s downtown building was sold in 2023. Since the building was sold, several residents have been vocal calling for the city to invest in a new central library that “showcases our civic pride.”

Rick Herring, a Carter Riverside resident who also ran to represent District 11 in 2022, advocated for a “grand central library” in a presentation to council members in September. 

See also  Walking Brews

Clark said she is pleased that residents are invested in the fate of the central library. However, she believes the city can create a destination library with a smaller physical footprint. Amenities like recording spaces, an extensive craft room and specialized software are all ways to make a library a destination. 

“There are lots of different ideas in modern public library thinking that can create a destination for the public without having that big, grand space,” Clark said. 

The Fort Worth Public Library’s partnerships with cultural institutions such as the Cliburn, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and others will also continue under Clark’s leadership. 

Most of all, Clark plans to work to keep the Fort Worth Public Library a place that is open to all Fort Worth residents looking to access resources and information. Just as it was when she was a child looking for a welcoming space to learn.

“It’s just really important that each community, each neighborhood has a welcoming space like this, where we can all come together, from whatever backgrounds we’re from, from whatever political views, religious views, this is the place where we’re all coming together to learn something.”

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org or via X.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts

Recent Comments