In Hartford, a Library Within a Library

Students use computers at the UConn Hartford Library inside the Hartford Public Library on June 19, 2018. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Students use computers at the UConn Hartford Library inside the Hartford Public Library. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

“We may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth.”
― John Lubbock, banker, politician, philanthropist, scientist.

In downtown Hartford, there is now a collection of works that addresses the needs of University of Connecticut students while also expanding upon offerings for the public.

When it moved to its new location a year ago, the Hartford Campus began working with the Hartford Public Library to occupy a portion of the facility. The two entities enjoy a seamless relationship, says Michael Howser, outgoing library director who oversaw the transition of the facility, in both a physical and a philosophical sense.

“Almost immediately after the announcement of UConn moving to downtown Hartford, [officials of the Hartford Public Library] reached out to UConn about a library within a library,” says Howser.

The first challenge was the physical moving of 60,000 items from the existing Trecker Library at the former UConn campus in West Hartford to the new downtown location.

The collection had been developed from the merging of multiple libraries previously on campus. Over a period of two years, library staff conducted a systematic review of the collections with an eye towards the current and future research and curriculum areas, while also ensuring minimal overlap with the collections at Hartford Public Library.

The collections had three main destinations, with some making the move downtown, others coming to the Homer Babbidge Library on the Storrs campus, and still others donated to Better World Books Inc., which distributed them to libraries in need around the world.

“It’s amazing what you discover in a library when you are preparing for a move,” says Howser.

The modern-day public library is not just a place to get a card, borrow books, and come back two weeks later. It’s home to many services and programs that citizens can use every day, and a place of constant human interaction.

The partnership has resulted in the designation of a number of learning spaces for students to utilize, ranging from spaces for collaboration, conversation, and instruction, to areas for quiet and focused work.

“What has been a true asset in this partnership is having UConn courses taught within the library,” says Howser. “The UConn faculty, library staff, and students are able to connect the collections to the learning experience, and inspire library patrons to continue on a path of lifelong learning.”

We want the people in Hartford, especially youngsters, to see the UConn students and say ‘I can be one of them someday’. — Michael Howser

Providing programming for the downtown area is a major goal of UConn Hartford.

“We are all learning how we can work together,” says Nadine Brennan, associate campus director of UConn Hartford. “We brought back the carol sing at the holidays, which was a tradition of the main building when it was the Hartford Times. We were involved in Winterfest Hartford. The library relationship is another example of how programming can be shared by UConn and the city.”

The partnership came to fruition this past spring with the “Big Read,” a program of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The Big Read initiative is designed to create a broader understanding of the world through the sharing of a book.

The book selected this year nationally was “Citizen: An American Lyric” by Claudia Rankine, the first work of poetry to become a New York Times bestseller for multiple weeks on the paperback nonfiction list. It also won the National Book Critics Circle Awards in poetry. Through a series of vignettes, the book recounts everyday moments of racism “of a kind that accumulate until they become a poisonous scourge.”

The Big Read concluded in Hartford on April 26 with a keynote address by Rankine that highlighted an evening of celebration, which also featured dance inspired by “Citizen,” performed by Tnmot Aztro, a downtown-based dance group.

“We were very thankful for UConn Hartford to be part of this,” says Sarah Pelletier, programming and events coordinator for the Hartford Public Library. “The premise of having UConn located in the Hartford Public Library was to share resources, engagement, and programming.”

UConn Hartford students and staff were also involved in the kickoff event for the Big Read, and two painting workshops that allowed for individual interpretation of “Citizen.”

On Friday, July 20, at 5:30 p.m., a reception will be held in the atrium of the Hartford Public Library to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the opening.

“From day one, we wanted the library to feel like a home for both Hartford residents and UConn students, faculty, and staff,” says Howser. “We want the people in Hartford, especially youngsters, to see the UConn students and say ‘I can be one of them someday’.”

A reception on Friday, July 20, at 5:30 p.m., in the atrium of the Hartford Public Library will commemorate the one-year anniversary of the partnership.