The Week in Library Land: September 22 to September 28
Had it not been for our recent Berkshire county marathon, this would have been a busy week. We had all kinds of new library experiences and we want to share them with you.
A few months ago, we were contacted by Martha Crawford. She was in the process of organizing a series of salons on a variety of topics and wondered if we’d be interested in presenting and speaking with the group. It wasn’t something we had to be asked twice.
Monday was the big day. The event, an ALFA Salon, was organized in conjunction with an adult learning program at Fitchburg State and held at the lovely Lunenburg Public Library. We arrived early enough to have an opportunity to chat with Martha and Muir Haman, the library’s director. We also had the opportunity to stroll around and tour the library. It’s a fine building, designed by Johnson Roberts Associates, whose work we have seen and appreciated at a number of Massachusetts libraries.
One thing that seemed a little odd about the library was the fact that some of the staff were wearing what we learned were panic buttons connected to an emergency response system. We know that many libraries have means to alert staff or first responders to a problem, but this was the first time we’d seen a wearable version in use. We hope it is out of an abundance of caution and that the system will never need to be used.
The salon was a lot of fun. We told the unlikely story of our arrival in, and exploration of, Library Land. The audience, probably 35 people, were engaged and had a lot of questions for us. We were especially happy to see librarians from other area libraries in attendance. Their presence was really helpful in addressing some of the questions from participants.
The great library, coupled with the salon, made this visit an excellent way to start what would be a fun and active day. Library Land Score: 4.36.
One of the things you have to love about Massachusetts libraries is how close they are to one another. That’s one of the big benefits of the local library rather than a county system. In many cases, the next library is just a 10 or 15 minutes drive away. That was certainly the case as we drove from Lunenburg to Fitchburg.
The Fitchburg Public Library is a sprawling building from the 1950s. It’s a tad tired and a little threadbare, but it is not without its charms. First is the building itself. It’s a brilliantly modern building - as modern was imagined in the mid-century. A large and open space, the library is also filled with small details and wonderful surprises. To share just a few - the cool geometric ceiling, the 250 seat theater, a comfortable history/study room, two reading gardens (one for adults and one for kids), and working (though not currently used) fireplaces in the kids’ section and in the main library. And let’s not forget the awesome owl motif!
Then there are the library’s programming and services. For example, there’s a really active literacy program - and this is the first library we’ve seen that makes bicycles available for its patrons in the Library of Things! How cool is that? The youth library - which opened in 1950 - was the first stand-alone children’s library building in the country. Eleanor Roosevelt was on hand for its dedication.
We were happy to hear that the library is on the list to receive state funding to reimagine and renovate their space. It’s a terrific part of the community that will only get better in the future! Library Land Score: 4.09.
Next, we were off to Leominster Public Library, where we had a lovely tour with Sondra Murphy and Tina McAndrew, the library’s director, and assistant director, respectively. What a lovely place. It's large, comfortable, and has all of the features and accouterments we expect from a fine library. Highlights include the original 1910 Carnegie building, a children's vegetable/salsa garden, tables made from the glass floors of long-gone stacks, a nice Library of Things collection and super friendly and available staff. We also loved a planned evening program, ominously titled “Hunt A Killer.” We love fun, creative community game-playing in a library - especially if it catches a killer ;).
It’s interesting to see variations among the Carnegie libraries we’ve visited. This one is a fairly large one with two floors. Its first-floor reading rooms are quite lovely and also have apparently working fireplaces. In 2007, a major expansion/addition was built that brought the library solidly into the 21st century. Both sections are wonderfully welcoming and great places to spend time. Library Land Score: 4.73.
To finish our library tour for the day, we visited the Hazen Memorial Library in Shirley. On our way from Leominster to Shirley, we passed the old red-brick Romanesque building that served as the town’s library from 1893 to 1996. It’s a beautiful library whose design was clearly inspired by the work of the American architect Henry Hobson Richardson.
The new library is located on a municipal service cul-de-sac that includes public safety, and other town offices. As we go back and forth about co-locating libraries in other town buildings, there’s no question of the value of near-siting multiple services. The new library may not have the visual charm of the older one, but it clearly better meets the needs of its community.
We arrived just before closing time, but Deb Roy - the director - was kind enough to show us around and speak to the various features and sections of the library. The history room was particularly interesting. While there are not currently any study spaces, the library is considering how these might be added in the future. Library Land Score: 4.36.
Back in March - on the day we launched the Library Land Project - we participated in Library Legislative Day at the State House. It was a really good event and an opportunity for us to learn more about the state’s library system, meet with our representatives around issues of interest to libraries, and meet more members of the library community.
During lunch, State Senator Eric Lesser delivered some remarks. He made the point that libraries are the original co-working space and that certainly caught our attention. After he left the podium I buttonholed him to say how much we agreed and to tell him about Library Land. He told me he was sponsoring legislation (Senate Bill 208) that would provide incentives for people to relocate and work remotely in Western Massachusetts and suggested we keep in touch.
Fast forward to early September, when we received an email from his chief-of-staff asking if we’d be willing to provide testimony at a hearing on the legislation at the Springfield Technical Community College. Of course, we readily agreed!
Tuesday was the appointed day and we dutifully drove out to Springfield. It was interesting - and a real pleasure - to share some of what we’ve seen and learned and how those things can impact co-workers, remote workers, and entrepreneurs. Our recent visit to Berkshire County provided lots of examples of how the region’s libraries are serving these groups.
When we finished, we decided to visit the Springfield Central Library. This really is a crown jewel caliber library. It’s a Carnegie and it’s the biggest - and perhaps the most beautiful - we’ve seen. The dome of the central rotunda is like a giant wedding cake, with tiers of amazing sculpted details.
The library is part of a cultural district that also includes the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, the Springfield Science Museum, the Wood Museum of Springfield History, the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, and the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. It’s an amazing array of options and the library is a perfect fit.
One thing that we find again and again is the helpful and friendly nature of librarians. On every visit, we make it a point to stop at the circulation desk or reference desk to ask about the library and its services. And virtually every time this spirals into a conversation that can lead in so many directions. That was certainly the case in Springfield as we heard about the collection, the library’s history, and plans for a revitalized East Branch library that will be opening in November. These conversations are one of our favorite parts of Library Land! Library Land Score: 4.27.
Wednesday was a writing day and where better to write than the lovely Lincoln Library. Its local history room - with dimmable lights, still and quiet air, and cool temperature - is perfect. Library Land Score: 4.55.
With more writing to do, there was a second visit to Lincoln. The history room was unavailable but the gorgeous Tarbell Room was free. It’s less private than the history room but that doesn’t make it any less suitable for getting work done!
It was a fun week and it’s so great to know there’s always more fun - and more to learn - waiting for us just around the corner in Library Land!