ORLEANS — You've got to know where you are before you can get to where you're going.
Snow Library is developing a space usage and projection study that will lead to upgrades of areas for adults, teens, and children. The library's facilities advisory committee has met with consultant Mary Braney to review a draft needs assessment, which is based on extensive interviews and public forums.
“In post-1992 attempts to make changes to library layout it has been discovered that there are likely serious structural issues, especially with the 1992 addition,” the draft report states. “The mezzanine cannot support any additional book weight, for example. Stakeholders indicate no historic or sentimental attachment to the current structure, but very strongly support the library, its location and the services it provides.”
That understanding underpins the current needs assessment, which unlike one completed in 2009 will “compare the cost of renovation with that of a completely new building based on the square footage requirements,” according to the minutes of the facilities committee's March 5 meeting. Another new element is review of the size of the library's collection.
The library is four or five years away from being able to apply for a design development grant from the state, according to the March 5 minutes; that's actually an opportunity to prepare a comprehensive needs assessment. Facilities committee members asked for substantial changes in the current draft at their May 22 meeting, and a revised version is being prepared.
While projected numbers are being debated, other Snow Library data are recorded fact. From July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018, there were 9,258 registered borrowers, 4,615 of them residents. Almost 165,700 items in all formats were circulated, with the library receiving more than 24,000 items by inter-library loan and sending 11,800 to other libraries. And, in case you've always wondered, there are slightly more non-fiction than fiction holdings.
The argument that the library is a true center of the community is bolstered by its hosting 550 programs for children, young adults and adults that drew 14,560 people. That's in addition to the many meetings of civic and community groups held at the library.
It's a busy place, and the sometimes hectic pace starts at the front door. The draft report notes that the 37 parking spaces are often full, requiring patrons to park across the street, and that handicapped spaces are at the far end of the lot and require the use of a 25-foot-long ramp. Cars pulling up to drop off people can block the front steps.
Once inside, the report finds, “a newcomer must pause to determine the appropriate path to the main library.” What they see in front of them in the narrow hallway is a display case with changing exhibits that draws viewers who can conflict with traffic to the rest rooms and Marion Craine Gallery to the left.
Deeper into the library, the reference desk is behind a low wall that's “a barrier to interaction with patrons requesting assistance both physically...and acoustically.” The nearby Harry Snow Reading Room is a comfy place to digest The New York Times, but “because it adjoins the children's room it does not provide quiet reading space.”
Quiet space is a priority for all the age groups that use the library, but there are precious few locations available. A quiet study room in the basement “is in high demand for small group meetings.”
That basement, by the way, is jammed with “all adult fiction, the large print collection, craft program space, the Friends room, the staff room, a study room, storage closets, restrooms and mechanicals...shelves are substantially full (and) carts are used for additional shelving.” There are no windows to provide natural light.
Goals laid out in the draft needs assessment include “sufficient shelf space to allow materials to be arranged in logical and consecutive Dewey Decimal order; sufficient and appropriate shelving for non-print materials; more public service computers (16 rather than 8); quiet (and) comfortable space for adults to read or study; clearly defined and enclosed areas for children and young adults; sufficient and appropriate program space including a larger auditorium and a multi-purpose/makerspace room accessible to the public when the library is closed; a dedicated children's program room; and small quiet study rooms; handicapped accessibility throughout; reconfigured and efficient staff space” and more parking (73 rather than 37 spaces) and storage areas.
As what it is and what it wants to be become more defined, Snow Library welcomes continued participation by the community. All meetings of the facilities advisory committee are open to the public and are posted on the town's website under Snow Library Board of Trustees.