The Newbury Town Library
The Newbury Town Library is a wonderfully unexpected gem. When we arrived, we were immediately struck by the contemporary look of the library. Large lanterns, or light wells run along the peaks of the roofs, bringing to mind two of our favorite libraries, Scituate and Webster. The architects behind this beautiful building are Hale and Associates and you can imagine our surprise when we learned this library is 20 years old! The space is as bright and open and airy as you could wish for.
Upon entering, you will find yourself in a large, high-ceiling, open room. In front of you are the adult, reference and YA sections. To the left, behind a curving half wall, is the children’s area. The fact that the kids are only separated by a partial wall means the library can be loud, but on our visit it was peacefully quiet. To the right is the circulation desk, periodicals, and the administrative offices.
There is a quiet study room that can be reserved, as well as two larger community/program rooms, and a local history and genealogy room. All can be used by the community and the larger spaces can be reserved and “rented” at no cost to town residents. These rooms can also be used outside of library hours thanks to separate entrances with keypad entry. Very nice. There are also a number of comfortable seating areas around the library.
The library also features a friends bookstore. We’ve seen a few libraries doing this and it seems to make a lot of sense. In the case of the Newbury Town Library, the current bookstore actually raises more money that the annual book sales they ran in the past - and with less work and stress to boot!
One of the confusing things about the library is its address. It’s the Newbury Town Library, but the address puts it in Byfield. What gives, we wondered, is Newbury a regional library like? Nope, it turns out that Byfield is a village of Newbury, as is a big part of Plum Island! Who’d have guessed?
So now you have a sense of the physical space of the library - and that physical space is only a part of the overall story and experience of a library. We were lucky enough to spend time with Erin Ouimet, the library’s assistant director. She filled us in on some of the library’s history and plans for the future, which includes some rearrangement of the collection and possibly additions to the large grounds surrounding the building.
One of the things I loved hearing is the work they are doing around adult programming. Let me explain. Most library have a ton of kids’ programming, which is awesome. We’ve talked to libraries that view children’s programs as a real core of their service - but sometimes this can create blinders that might ignore other groups. (This is something we’ll be writing about more in the future.) Newbury had been running just a small handful of adult programs per year. Recently, they have expanded the number of these programs and, as a result, adult use has gone up. It shows that rethinking audience can lead to more visits by more people!
The group in the community that is proving the most challenging to reach are teens, and the reason makes sense, even if it wasn’t obvious to us at first. Newbury may have a small population (around 3,000), but it covers a lot of area. The town doesn’t have bike lanes (or even sidewalks, in many cases) so teens without a driver’s license or access to a car are dependent on parents or friends to get them to the library. This is a bigger issue and one that impacts more than just libraries and towns all across the country.
The library is also experimenting with other services. There’s a growing Library of Things collection, an informal technology help center, and an initiative to catalog the library’s historical collection. The library also offers home delivery of books and other items, which is pretty cool. Every Friday, a staff member takes items to home-bound patrons and collects returns. This may be a common service, but this was the first time we’ve heard of it.
In talking to Erin, and other members of the staff, we were impressed by their friendliness, responsiveness and happiness in talking about the library. Erin, in particular, was generous with her time and insights. The Newbury Town Library isn’t a flashy bells and whistles kind of place, but it’s a really nice example of a well-run and well-loved town library.