Roots and Branch

Roots and Branch

The Fair Haven Branch of the New Haven Free Public Library closes an hour earlier than usual on Saturdays. The security guard was explaining this in Spanish as I walked in, much to the disappointment of the young boy hoping to use one of the computers. Nearby, a librarian was on the phone, informing the caller that not only could books be returned to any branch of the New Haven system but actually to any public library in the state of Connecticut.

New Haven’s library branches are connected but distinctive, from Ives Main Library and its Tinker Lab to Wilson Branch and its seed library to Stetson Branch and its integration with the recently resurrected Q House. The Fair Haven library, for its part, offers a mobile farmers’ market from Common Ground High School, free meetings with a volunteer social worker and so much more. “Do people still check out books?” Branch manager Kirk Morrison asks, rhetorically. “They do, but… we try to provide a little something for everybody, whether it’s programming or office services or a cool place to read.”

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Fair Haven is 67% Hispanic, according to DataHaven’s 2016 Neighborhood Estimates (the latest available)—more than double the figure for New Haven overall. This has led to an emphasis on bilingual resources spanning the signage, the shelves, the programming and the staffing. “We try to have a Spanish-speaking staff member on at all times,” Morrison says, adding that “a lot of our community partners focus on recent immigrants or Spanish speakers or both.”

Morrison described a scene at a recent meeting of the branch’s English Conversation Club, which is attended mostly by people whose first language is Spanish, originating from countries including Costa Rica and Ecuador. But this particular meeting also had attendees from China, India and Togo. “Putting people together from different cultures different languages, even from the front desk you can hear laughter and encouragement. People make friends, even if the only thing they have in common is somehow winding up in New Haven.” Perhaps due to the proximity of Fair Haven School, whose population of pre-K through eighth grade students is one of the largest in the system, the library’s kids’ section is especially inviting, decorated with a fantastical forest motif and plenty of afternoon sunlight.

I had noticed, upon entering the library, a curious flier advertising the search for Sam the Stegosaurus, which, like that rippling water cup in Jurassic Park, turned out to be evidence of something bigger. According to Morrison, when the Yale Peabody Museum closed for renovations, they donated their gift shop inventory to the libraries. This stock, as well as a collaborative effort between Fair Haven Library and the Peabody, has led to a wealth of dinosaur-related programming. Now Sam the Stego will be hiding in the building for the month of September, along with a learning challenge. Finders will receive Peabody-sourced prizes like art and science kits and dinosaur figurines.

“If we’re doing our job right, we act as the living room of the neighborhood,” Morrison says. He wants Fair Haveners to know that “you’re welcome to come, and there’s bound to be a resource or an event for you.” Not to mention free parking.

Fair Haven Branch Library
182 Grand Ave, New Haven (map)
Mon-Wed 10am-6pm, Thurs noon-8pm, Sat 10am-5pm
(203) 946-8115

Written by Miki Cornwell. Photographed by Dan Mims. Image 3 features, from left, librarians Tristan Evarts and Manuel Romero and security guard José Flores.

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