Straining Its Binding, Snow Library Seeks More Space

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Snow Library

Snow Library Director Tavi Prugno is in the balcony of the Marion Craine Room, a much-utilized exhibit, meeting and program space. ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS Libraries are supposed to be cozy, not crowded. Many think the time has come for a renovation/expansion of the town's much-used Snow Library.

Built in 1954 after its original 1877 building across the way was destroyed by fire, 23 years passed before an expansion in 1977 and only 15 before the next augmentation, in 1992. It's been 24 years since the building's last growth spurt.

Meanwhile, circulation and programming have grown quite a bit. The Lifetime Learning program has 905 registrants, and new offerings such as Baby's First Year and Move and Groove are welcoming a spectrum of ages.

A brief walk through the library with Director Tavi Prugno reveals how tight things are. On the lower level, book carts are stationary and filled as temporary shelving. In the jammed and tiny archive room above the main floor, a ladder leans against a wall, clearly out of place. Next door, a wall of the trustees meeting room is covered with stacks of the library's H.H. Cummings photo book. “We do sell them, but we have to store them somewhere,” Prugno notes.

The chairs in the always-busy Marion Craine Room can sometimes be put up and taken down several times in the same day for everything from children's activities in the morning to lecture or film programs at night. The library's custodian and staff do the hauling.

Prugno appreciates all the town does to keep Snow's physical plant humming. “They really rise to the occasion,” he said, but some issues persist, such as “numerous” roof leaks.

A facilities advisory committee of trustees as well as members of the Friends group has been thinking about a future renovation or expansion since 2012. An earlier effort led to a space needs study in 2008 and a report in 2010 that, Prugno said, “found the library very much in need of more space.” Unfortunately, such studies “get outdated quickly,” he noted, and the current committee is pursuing $40,000 in town funding for another.

The committee wants to stay on the existing library's site, according to Prugno. “Everyone seems to agree they wouldn't want to abandon it.”

Mary Mador, president of the Friends, says her group has ideas for Snow Library's next stage. “We envision the library as a community center,” she said. “We'd like to see additional facilities for small meetings, and a children's area safely set off from the rest of the library.” She thinks middle school students should have a place of their own as well.”

Trustees chair Cheryl Bryan agrees, especially given that so much schoolwork is done these days in teams that need to meet and share ideas. “Most libraries have small study rooms,” she said. “We don't have that kind of space.”

Getting an up-to-date space study done would qualify Snow for state funds, according to Bryan, who said towns all around the Lower Cape have gotten such support for their libraries while Orleans' languished.

There was the possibility, expressed as recently as last week's trustees meeting, that some small space could be freed by the Friends moving its book sale operation to another nearby location, but Mador said a potential lease fell through when the landlord required rental of the entire space. That exceeded what the group could expect to earn from sales, she said. Plan B is to renovate the Friends room on the lower level, cull the offerings, and put in modern shelving. The library itself plans to weed its collection thoroughly to free shelf space for new acquisitions.

On Oct. 28 at 11 a.m., the local architects who helped brainstorm new uses for the town's old firehouse will meet with members of the trustees and Friends to talk about the library's present and past. Another positive sign came last week when Selectman Alan McClennen, his board's liaison to the library trustees, said that the town will begin planning an extended capital projects budget past the five-year framework in place for many years. There are many who hope there'll be room in any such plan for a bigger and better Snow Library.

It's “All aboard” Oct. 26 at 6 p.m., when Jay Stradal and Doug Scott of the Nauset Model Railroad Club will present “Rails to Trails, A History of Cape Cod Railroads.” Their illustrated talk is a tie-in with the library's “One Book, One Town” series.