‘Indoor town common’
Public libraries like the one in Sunderland keep relevant with programs for their communities
SUNDERLAND (January 25, 2014) Loie Acton, 7, learns a sword dance with her friends in the community room taught by That Long Tall Sword, a longsword and mumming team from Amherst. Photo by Beth Reynolds
SUNDERLAND (January 25, 2014) New arrivals at the Sunderland Library. Photo by Beth Reynolds
SUNDERLAND (January 25, 2014) Steffany Charest reads the paper while her son plays in the bi-weekly LEGO Club at the library. Photo by Beth Reynolds
SUNDERLAND (January 25, 2014) The Bi-weekly LEGO Club at the Sunderland Library. Children can build the challenge of the day or their own creation. The library will display them for 2 weeks. Photo by Beth Reynolds
SUNDERLAND (January 25, 2014) The Sunderland Library. Photo by Beth Reynolds
SUNDERLAND (January 25, 2014) Kelly Daniels checks out a stack of books for Audrey Shearer, 3 and her mom Marjorie of South Deerfield at The Sunderland Library. Photo by Beth Reynolds
SUNDERLAND (January 25, 2014) The Acton family of Hadley, Loie 7, Mark, Sara (obscured) and Wes, 4 enjoy a play in the community room by That Long Tall Sword, a longsword and mumming team from Amherst. Photo by Beth Reynolds
Knitting Circle at the Sunderland Library every Monday 10-12. Recorder/Paul Franz
Mara Allium, 3, of Sunderland makes friends with Leila Relin, 6 months, and her mom Megan Relin of South Deerfield at the baby play group at the Sunderland Library. Recorder/Paul Franz
Every Friday at 10 AM is Coffee Friday at the Sunderland Library where a group of people meet to have "leaderless, agandaless conversaton" over homee made baked goods nad coffee. Recorder/Paul Franz
Yellow and purple pastel dust stained their hands as they gently created strokes of color on green paper. Excitement and curiosity filled the room as the strokes took shape and formed into individual blossoms.
In the Sunderland Public Library, 12 people were creating art with pastels, similar to the work of Georgia O’Keeffe, an American artist known for her vibrant paintings of enlarged blossoms.
Only 90 minutes earlier, they didn’t know how to use pastels, how to draw shadows using color, how to recreate anything similar to a renowned artist’s work. That changed when these beginning art students participated in a pastel workshop led by Gregory Maichack of Holyoke at the Sunderland Public Library.
Maichack, a working artist since 1970, is an award-winning portraitist and painter working primarily in pastels. At his workshops, Maichack teaches O’Keeffe’s methods, demonstrates how to use pastels and coaches participants as they attempt their own works in O’Keeffe’s style.
Like many other libraries in Franklin County, the Sunderland Public Library, located at 20 School St., hosts a slew of activities for the community, from coffee on Friday mornings to a knitting club, to author readings, to film screenings, to a LEGO club.
“My guiding philosophy is to have events that contribute to the community,” Library Director Adam Novitt said.
The library is a central meeting place for Sunderland said Novitt, in part because it offers diverse programs and gives people an opportunity to meet other people, whether they are making crafts or just sipping on coffee.
“It’s difficult for people to form relationships like they used to. I feel the library is one of the last places people can go and be treated respectfully and you don’t have to buy anything,” Novitt said. “It could be the indoor town common.”
Part of what makes the Sunderland Public Library so successful is its four-member staff and support from town residents.
“Having such a strong staff has allowed me to figure out how to do things better rather than (having to) keep fixing things,” Novitt said. “It all comes together in a nice way.”
In the summer, the library hosts a concert series featuring local musicians who perform outside, behind the building. While last summer’s series only featured two artists, this summer will showcase three local artists. On average, 100 people attended each concert.
“It’s an American ideal, a small town, American get-together,” Novitt said.
On Friday mornings at 10 a.m., the library hosts a coffee group, during which adults discuss various topics, from entertainment news to financial news, to American foreign policy. The coffee is donated by the Millstone Farm Market.
A local author series, in particular, is a staple at the library. “This is our business. This is what we do,” Novitt said.
Once a week, from January to the end of February, the library invites a local author to come and speak. It holds a similar series in the summertime, as well.
The series gives readers a chance to talk directly to an author about his or her work.
“There are a lot of people writing interesting books around here in the Pioneer Valley. It’s nice when someone can come share the results of their research and it helps you to realize who is in the community,” Novitt said.
This year’s series kicked off Jan. 22 with Alan Weisman of Cummington. He discussed his latest book, “Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?” The book focuses on how the needs of a growing human population affect the Earth and its resources.
On Feb. 9 at 2 p.m., Saloma Miller Furlong of Sunderland will discuss her memoir “Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds.” In her book, she discusses her experience in the Amish community and her life after she left it. Furlong is featured in the PBS documentaries “The Amish” and “The Amish: Shunned.”
On Sunday, Feb. 2, at 2 p.m., the library will show a sneak preview of “The Amish: Shunned,” which will premier on PBS’s “American Experience” on Feb. 4.
On Wednesday, Feb. 5, the library will screen “Food for Change,” a feature-length documentary on food co-ops by local filmmaker Steve Alves, who will be present for a discussion following the film, which features interviews with many local people.
On Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 6:30 p.m., arborist Brine Kane will give a talk titled “Tree Care for the Homeowner.” Kane is the Massachusetts Arborists Association professor of commercial arboriculture at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
Recently, the library started a baby and toddler playgroup held Mondays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. It lets babies play together while parents meet each other and share ideas. So far, about 10 moms and 10 babies attend.
Also on Mondays from 10 a.m. to noon, the library offers a knitting group, which about 20 older women attend each week.
“We have the grandchildren, the mothers and the grandmothers in the building at the same time,” Novitt said. “That’s what I’ve enjoyed seeing. There’s all kinds of interactions with people. As library director, that’s what I think is great.”
“An outcome of a program is that people could have relationships that last a lifetime,” he added.
The program with the most enthusiastic participants is the LEGO Club, held every other Saturday, from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., for elementary school children. Each week, kids are challenged to build on a theme. Past themes include “castles” and “transportation.”
The library is trying to incorporate more programs for teenagers and young adults. Last year, it received a $15,000 state grant to target young adults.
While it recently had to cancel a mini-golf program for teenagers due to low turnout, the library is working on other ideas. It has two volunteer groups working on it, the junior teen advisory group for middle school students and the senior teen advising group for high school students. The groups brainstorm on ways to appeal to their peers.
“We need guidance from kids on what kind of stuff they want us to do with the money. It’s a mystery to me,” said Novitt, who adds he is finding that many teenagers simply prefer pizza and craft workshops.
Part of the problem is that activities enjoyed by a 14-year-old can be vastly different from what a 17-year-old wants to do, said Novitt. “It’s a small group with extremely wide differences.”
The young adults who participate can be from any town as long as they use the library.
The library’s most recent offering for young adults? An Anti-Valentine’s Day Party for teens and tweens on Feb. 14, from 5 to 6 p.m. Here’s the pitch on the library’s website: “Romance is overrated. Join your friends for a fun party of cookie decorating games and absolutely no mushy stuff!!”
Despite the emergence of e-readers like the Barnes and Noble Nook and the Amazon Kindle, Novitt isn’t too worried about a diminishing of the library’s primary mission, making actual books available to the community.
In 2013, the library had its highest program attendance and circulation figures in the 10 years since it opened. Last year, the library checked out 66,000 books and other materials and its programs had 3,600 attendees. The goal for this year is to have 5,200 program attendees.
Novitt said he is not sure what the future holds for printed books, but he predicts that the demand for DVDs, now one-third of the library’s circulation, will be reduced sooner due to Netflix and other online movie-streaming programs.
“It takes time to come to the library and time is valuable to people,” said Novitt. “To me, that shows it means something to come and see people. It’s something the library will always have, a space where people are real. You could have friends on (social media) or friends at the library. Having real friends and doing real things is much more satisfying.”
“No matter how cool the Internet gets, it is still typing indoors,” Novitt added. “A 26-inch screen can’t compete with a 360-degree vision.”
Staff reporter Kathleen McKiernan has worked at The Recorder since 2012. She covers Deerfield, Conway, Sunderland and Whately. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.
Beth Reynolds is a photographer and educator. She runs Base Camp Photo Community Center in Greenfield. She can be reached at email@example.com
Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261 Ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.