We don’t usually write about libraries that don’t get stellar scores. We’re making an exception for Greenfield. We were invited to Greenfield to spend a day meeting with various individuals and organizations focused on getting a new library for the city. And based on what we saw, it really needs one.
But first, we need to rewind the clock way back to October 25, 2017. We were on our way to Mass MoCA, one of the best contemporary art museums in the world, when Adam suggested we see about getting a pass from a local library. To make a long story short (but feel free to read the long story here) we stopped in Greenfield, got library cards, borrowed the passes, and had a terrific time at the museum. It was a great experience and it came long before we thought of doing the Library Land project.
That visit helped reframe our thinking around libraries. It meant that when we were planning our PR firm, SharpOrange, and needed a place to work, we thought of libraries right off the bat. If you’ve been reading our stuff for a while, you know what happened next - we’ve gone on to visit more than 230 libraries and have become tireless advocates on their behalf.
Which leads us back to Greenfield and the invitation from the LibraryYES campaign.
We started with a meeting and tour of the current library, led by Ellen Boyer, the director, who was joined by representatives of the Friends, the library foundation, and the Trustees. All were generous with their time and insights. Ellen and her team understand the limitations of their space and how that impacts the services they offer and the community they serve. They are working hard and in many cases, their efforts are paying off - but more could be achieved in a new space.
A new space means change and change can be hard. The current library - as charming as it is - has outlived its utility. The main section was built in the 1790s, two small wings were added in the early-1800s, it was expanded in the early-1900s (1907-9), and once more in the mid-twentieth century. Needless to say, many of the library's facilities - from its bathrooms to its meeting rooms to its accessibility accommodations - are woefully in need of repairs or upgrades.
The teen area has been expanded but is still small. Despite being only a modest change, it has made a difference in the ways teens use the space. There’s much more activity and engagement, which was exactly the intent. Further expanding the YA area won’t be possible in the current building, but there are plans for a more robust teen area in the new library.
The children’s section is modest but sweet. There’s no dedicated programming space but the library still does more than 400 programs annually. Most are held in the basement meeting rooms (which are a bit smelly and dilapidated). One of the recent programs that wasn’t in the smelly basement was a Quidditch tournament. It was held outdoors and was a super-elaborate recreation of the Hogwarts game. The trophy was really amazing.
From a coworking perspective - always important to Adam and me - there really aren’t any areas to comfortably spread out and work. That, too, will be addressed by a new library.
The need for improvement is most pressing in terms of accessibility. There is currently just one accessible entrance - and even that requires patrons to navigate a series of support posts that run right in the middle of the hallway leading to the library’s one small elevator. The restrooms (locked in the basement and on an incline) present another challenge, as do the narrow spaces between the stacks.
During our visit, we saw how the issue of accessibility impacts the community first hand. As we were standing outside, an older gentleman with a prosthetic leg and a woman with a walker struggled up the uneven ramp and made their way along a cracked sidewalk to a parking lot. It was not how accessibility should look.
From the library, we visited a meeting of the LibraryYES campaign. There were business people, politicians, editors, entrepreneurs, and community activists. It was interesting to hear their plans for educating and mobilizing voters to support the LibraryYES campaign. They came across as earnest and well-organized. They don't necessarily agree on everything, but all of them want to help build a better Greenfield - and all of them recognize that a new library will help advance that cause.
One of the people we met at the LibraryYES meeting was Jeremy Goldsher. He - and his family - are active in the Greenfield business community. As we walked from the campaign meeting to visit different parts of the city, he pointed out various small businesses that were growing in Greenfield, including Federal Street Books, just around the corner from the library.
We also saw the Greenspace co-working space that Jeremy owns and manages with his father and brother. This is a great multiuse space, which - aside from coworking - also includes two performance venues. It was cool (but not as cool as a new library, of course, but then what is!).
From Greenspace, we walked to the Greenfield Gallery where we met its owner, Rachael Katz. A bold and bright person, Rachael showed off a giant bee sculpture in the gallery. It’s an homage of sorts to the Reverend Lorenzo, known as the “father of American beekeeping,” who lived in Greenfield in the 1840s and 50s.
From the gallery, we made our way to the Green Fields Market, a natural food/cooperative grocery that’s been around since the 1970s and which serves as the main business space for the Franklin Community Cooperative. There we met not only with Goldsher and Katz, but also Otis Wheeler, a city councilor and founding member of the Greenfield Downtown Neighborhood Association, and MJ Adams, Director for Economic and Community Development for the City of Greenfield. We talked about the state of business and the arts in Greenfield and heard about the growth in both areas.
Wheeler, wearing his downtown neighborhood association hat, described the area as offering a high quality of life at a low cost - and that the library would help tie the neighborhood together. It was also amazing to hear that this small city is able to support three theater troupes.
Our penultimate stop was City Hall. There we met with MJ, Otis (in his role as city councilor), City Councilor Penny Ricketts and Mayor Bill Martin. Hearing from the mayor was particularly interesting. He started his first term just as the Great Recession was taking hold. During his tenure the city embarked on a number of forward-looking initiatives, including rolling out municipal wifi and IPTV, switching to LED streetlights, installing a solar array, and converting the city from oil to natural gas.
That kind of activity was also evident in the city’s approach to securing a new library. The city council voted to provide the city’s portion of the funding, thus securing the matching construction grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC). Everything seemed to be moving forward smoothly until a group of citizens blocked the decision through a petition. It was helpful to hear this history. It was also interesting to hear about some of the issues the mayor and city council had to consider around the library - including its potential debt implications. At the end of the day, though, the mayor said they can’t do nothing. And so the voters will soon decide.
Our final activity of the day - a parade! - provided a good gauge of how the town felt about the library. We were invited to march with the LibraryYES group in the Franklin County Fair parade and it sure was fun. As we walked through the streets of Greenfield, in time to a high school band and waving pom-poms and placards, we heard a lot more cheers than anything else. In fact, the only vaguely negative shout out was that the library should “keep the old books!” (which they are planning to do anyway).
At the end of the parade, while enjoying funnel cakes with maple cream, we reflected on what we’d seen and heard over the course of the day.
Greenfield has a choice to make: spend an estimated $8.6 million to retrofit the existing library to make it accessible - at an additional cost of about 30 percent of the library’s currently usable space - or spend $8 million (plus a $9.38 million construction grant from the MBLC) to build a brand new, state of the art library right next door to the existing one - and one that is accessible by design.
Now we may not be CPAs, but the math seems pretty obvious to us - building the new library will cost less and deliver more for the library, its patrons, the community, and the region.
But reaching this conclusion was not just about the math.
Greenfield is an amazing and vibrant city. It’s full of people of goodwill, from all different walks of life, pulling together to continue to improve their community. People who might disagree on other things shared the goal of building a new library. Greenfield deserves a new library, the economics of the choice argue for a new library, and when it’s time to vote, people need to say, loud and clear, LIBRARYYES!
Library Land Score: 3.55 - a score that’s sure to soar when the new library opens its doors!