The Lawrence Library, Pepperell
Every library we visit is a like a gift to be unwrapped. Sometimes, the outward appearance is so captivating that it heightens the anticipation of what lies inside. Other times, a mundane exterior might dampen our expectations. Arriving at the Lawrence Library in Pepperell, our first impression was one of fascination, for the building is a curious (and wonderful) one - and that impression was borne out as we saw and learned more.
The library, which was dedicated in 1901, was a gift of Charles Lawrence, a Pepperell native and a banker in the New York firm of Lawrence, Frazier and Co. until his death in 1897. Lawrence’s bequest provided the funds for the land, design, construction, furnishings, and initial collection. The architects were Ernest Flagg and W.B. Chambers, known for their work on the Washington State Capital, the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, and St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City. The structure (aside from an addition built in 1985) is in the Romanesque style.
While there is a beautiful formal entrance on the front of the building, one now enters through an accessible entrance on the east side. As you enter, you begin to see some of the things that make this such an interesting place. The elevator doors, for example, are colorfully painted.
When we arrived, we took the stairs to the main floor and into what had once been the library’s reading room. This is an enormous space, well over 25 feet tall and featuring large skylights (which, sadly, are currently covered). On either side of this room are two smaller ones - both of which have functioning skylights - that are flooded with bright natural light.
The room on the west side serves at an art gallery and a space for musical recitals. The library has regular performances and mounts exhibits on an ongoing basis. The room to the east - the Lyceum - was once the periodicals room. As that collection has diminished over the years, the room is now primarily used as a reading/work room, complete with printers, copiers, and fax machines. There is a small study space located off of this room.
The Lyceum also houses the library’s ornithological collection. A gift from Sidney Shattuck, this is his personal collection of more than 100 local birds, carefully mounted and labeled. Many of the specimens are no longer to be found in the Pepperell area and others are now extinct. It’s somewhat macabre but interesting nevertheless.
On the upper floor, overlooking the main space, is the library’s local history room. It contains the typical collection genealogical records and other historical items to be found in many New England libraries. Pepperell is proud of its Revolutionary War history, as the town was the home of William Prescott, who commanded the American forces at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
The 1985 addition - located to the rear of the original library - created space for the library’s teen and children’s collections. Interestingly, the library maintains a third collection for tweens. As with the rest of the library, these sections are almost bursting at the seams and see a ton of use.
So now you have an impression of the physical space of the Lawrence Library - but that is only one part of its story.
The larger - and more important part - is the story of Deb Spratt, the library’s director; Tina McEvoy, the assistant director; and the rest of the staff. As we wandered, we wondered so many things. Tina kindly took us through the library, pointing out areas and items of interest and answering our questions.
She demonstrated such passion for the library and its mission. Her enthusiasm was infectious as she walked us outside to see the only accessible nature trail at any library in the state. Or as she pulled a copy of “Miss Rumphius,” by Barbara Cooney, from a shelf in the children’s room, to show us the depiction of the Lawrence Library on its pages. Tina was a whirlwind of facts and fun and made us feel more than welcome.
After our time with Tina, we sat down to work in the Lyceum. It was there that Deb found us. Accompanied by Sinjin, her Great Dane puppy, Deb spent time talking about her vision and experiences at the library. As is the case for virtually every library we visit, the story of the Lawrence Library has not been uniformly smooth. Ten years ago - at the height of the recession - the library, along with the senior and community centers, was at risk of closing. An override allowed all three to continue to function and a waiver was secured that allowed the library to remain in the CWMars network of the state library system.
Circumstances have since improved but the library is still a lean operation. But lean doesn’t mean meager services. The library offers events on a daily basis and hosts many more for outside organizations. The musical performances have already been mentioned - these take place regularly from September through May. Deb also recognizes the library’s unique role in the community and it has provided services, events, and information to encourage civic discourse. More recently, the focus has shifted to support for the LGBTQ community and its needs.
There is no shortage of ideas or energy for improving the library, expanding its services, or doing more for the community. The team that makes this possible isn’t only the library staff, but also the Friends and the trustees. There's clearly also strong support from the community. That combination is key to every successful library.
As we visit libraries, we often hear about the challenges they face. We hear about budgets that make it difficult to maintain services or facilities, about reduced days and hours of operation, about increased pressure of staffs and volunteers. These are real issues. In the case of the Lawrence Library, Deb and her staff rise to meet them every day. And if they do it with even half of the energy and enthusiasm they showed during our visit it’s easy to understand why they are not thwarted! Through strong Friends support, regular grant applications, and tireless advocacy, the Lawrence Library remains an integral part of the Pepperell community. The entire experience was a revelation and a wonderful inspiration!