PLEASANT HILL -- After librarian Patrick Remer led young children and parents through stories, songs and other activities Friday, many of them said attending the popular Storytime program is one of their favorite things to do.
"Storytime has been a really great thing for us," said Heather Freeling, a 36-year-old Lafayette resident who brings her 4-year-old son Sammy to the Pleasant Hill library Storytime program about four times a week. "He asks for it every day."
As the Contra Costa County library system embarks on a new strategic plan to decide its future priorities, the Freelings hope Storytime remains a staple. In addition, Heather Freeling said the feeling of community she and her son get in Pleasant Hill is more important to her than fancier library buildings in other cities.
"My biggest concern is that they prioritize the staff -- making sure the staff has an incentive to stay -- and not the building," she said. "I think a big mistake is when libraries focus on buildings and they don't remember what a library is really meant to be, which is community and books. We sometimes have as many as 60 books out."
Other parents at the library said they would like more bilingual programs and a larger variety of books by authors from other countries. Luz Gannon, a 65-year-old Danville resident whose 2-year-old grandson lives in Concord, said her family doesn't attend Storytime in his hometown because it is held around 1 p.m., which is nap time.
The library's last strategic plan was created in 2006, said Gail McPartland, deputy county librarian. At that time, many cities were assessing their library needs with an eye toward expanding their facilities or building new structures.
This time around, McPartland said the library is focusing more on getting countywide feedback through an online survey, 28 community meetings and one-on-one interviews with city and business leaders, among others. McPartland and Laura Seaholm, adult literacy program manager for Project Second Chance, are on a team of library employees that has developed an ambitious strategic plan mission statement.
"Our vision is to lead California in providing easy, equitable access to library services, advancing literacy and reading, and developing technological innovation," Seaholm said.
Last year, the county library system was awarded a 2012 National Medal for Museum and Library Service for its innovative services. These include a smart phone app for downloading e-books, a partnership that provides free or low-cost passes to local museums, library kiosks at BART stations, workshops, fairs and a tutoring program that helps adults learn to read.
But library administrators don't want the system, and its 27 branches, to rest on its laurels. Instead, those developing the plan want to ensure that libraries remain relevant and useful to the community, Seaholm said.
The library system wants answers to these questions:
The online survey, which can be completed through July 31, asks what the library should focus on as its priorities and the reasons patrons use it. It also asks community members to rate services, programs and materials.
By Wednesday, the library had already received 1,600 responses, McPartland said.
"Even if someone isn't a library user, their input is still valuable," Seaholm said. "We want to know: What do they think our services should be?"
Additional details about the Contra Costa County library system are available by calling 800-984-4636 or by visiting www.ccclib.org. The library survey is at www.ccclib.org/mylibrary.
To see videos about the library and survey, along with statistics about growth in circulation and library visits since 2002, visit www.contracostatimes.com