by Carole Verona
Community, engagement, program planning, awareness, relevancy and collaboration. These are the key words that kept popping up during Dan Ryan’s first interview with the Chestnut Hill Local.
On the job for less than a month, Ryan is the new library supervisor and adult/teen librarian at the Chestnut Hill Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, replacing Margaret Brunton, who retired in March after 21 years at the library.
“We want to be out there, to let everybody know what we’re doing here,” he said. “And we want to know what people want from us. We want to be evolving and flexible to meet people where they are, to be what people want us to be. We don’t want to leave any collaboration stone unturned.”
He said that during the coming academic year he wanted to make sure the library was working closely with the five schools that are in its assigned area: Jenks, Springside Chestnut Hill, Crefeld, Norwood-Fontbonne, and Our Mother of Consolation.
“Teens are one of the hardest demographics to reach,” he said. “One of my goals is to get a lot more traction with them by reaching out and working with Teenagers Inc. to plan programs together. I’m also interested in establishing a teen book club and a teen advisory panel. I’m not that old, but I’m not a teenager either, so I’m not totally aware of what the teens like or are into.”
Summer programs are in place, thanks to the work of Lynne Haase, children’s librarian, and Prather O’Donnell, who has been working as a part-time librarian.
“Lynne has been amazing, keeping everything going while we were short-staffed due to Margaret’s departure,” Ryan said.
The library has more programs than usual scheduled this summer for teens and younger kids. With an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math, programs include watching and discussing a Ted Talk about non-Newtownian fluids (July 16), learning more about greyhound dogs, with a visit by two of them (July 27), and constructing simple robotics (July 30). For adults, the library will present an Indian Bazaar, with henna tattoos, belly dancing, sari draping and samosas (also on July 30).
Ryan is taking a long-range view of things to ensure that programming fits the needs of all groups in the community. He pointed out that Chestnut Hill has a somewhat larger senior population than the rest of the city and that Indians constitute the largest immigrant group served by the library, followed by Chinese and German immigrants.
“We also have a decent population of new parents,” he said. “It will be interesting to explore programming for all of these groups.”
Before joining the Chestnut Hill Branch, Ryan was a data manager in the Central Library’s Office of Strategic Initiatives, where he worked on developing metrics to measure what the library is doing.
“We were particularly interested in the concept of ‘engagement,’ to see if we could find some standardized way to measure how much we’re really engaged with the community,” he said. “Does the community really feel that we’re here? How are we mutually impacted by that?”
Visitors to the Chestnut Hill Branch will notice changes that have already been made to the space.”
He said the library’s configuration has been rearranged to make it more attractive for adults.
“The magazine and newspaper racks and tables for reading, which now have a power strip for recharging devices, have been moved to the front of the library,” he explained. “The teen section has been redesigned and we reconfigured the children’s area with tables reserved just for children and their parents.
“I wish I had a better facility with words because I can’t adequately express how wonderful the Friends group and the library patrons have been to me since my arrival. The Friends group is so supportive and has been instrumental in making this place what it is – the garden, the physical facility, the furnishings and the programs we’re able to offer. Without their support, we wouldn’t be able to do so many of the things we’ve been doing. I want them to know how much they’re appreciated and how vital they are to what we do here.”
Carol Duncan, president of the Friends, added: “Dan attended our board meeting during his first week of service and he brought two pages of typed notes of projects he’s already done or begun. We’re happy about installing a charging station in the adult section and we also like the fact that the sections for children, teens and adults are now clearly delineated.”
Ryan grew up in Binghamton, N.Y., attended Broome Community College and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from State University of New York (SUNY) Binghamton. He received a master’s degree in Information Science and Policy from SUNY Albany in 2004. He was the first person in his family to go to college. After graduation, he worked as a reference librarian in the SUNY Albany Science Library and as a development researcher at Albany Law School.
Ryan moved to Philadelphia in May 2006 to work as a children’s librarian at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Lucien E. Blackwell West Philadelphia Regional Library, an adult/teen librarian at the Charles L. Durham Branch (2008-10) and at the Walnut Street West Branch Library (2010-15).
He said he chose a career as a librarian because he believes that “the American public library is about the most potent institution for enrichment out there.”
“A lot of people come to libraries for this book or that book,” he added, “but it’s really not about the book. People may just be curious about something or there’s something they really need to know. Whatever the reason, the library offers free and instant access to the world’s expertise.”
Ryan, his wife and their two daughters, Abby and Edie, moved to West Mt. Airy in March.
“We even found books in the library about how to select a neighborhood, how to move and how to help children cope with moving,” he said.
For more information about the library’s summer programs, go to its Facebook page or call the library at 215-685-9290.