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Erving library makes pitch for new space

Recorder/Paul Franz
Barbara Friedman at the Erving Public Library with Alazay Bauch, 13, and Alora DeForge, 13, both of Erving.

Recorder/Paul Franz Barbara Friedman at the Erving Public Library with Alazay Bauch, 13, and Alora DeForge, 13, both of Erving.

ERVING — Small, inadequate and occasionally musty, but very popular, was the picture painted of the town library by staff this week as they asked the Board of Selectmen to start the ball rolling to get state money to rebuild or expand.

Library Director Barbara Friedman, librarians and supportive patrons in tow, asked the selectmen to submit a letter of intent to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners for the latest round of library planning and construction grants.

Friedman and others described a bathroom currently half-filled with boxes of outbound books — Freidman said the library has to dispose of 500 every year to make room for new arrivals — a storage room that used to be a bathroom and a children’s room that used to be a closet, peeling paint, poor lighting, possibly asbestos floor tiles and easy access for bugs and rodents.

“It is worse than it appears,” said former trustee and current librarian Marion Overgaard, referring to pictures from a slide show Friedman presented.

Despite and exacerbating the cramped conditions, Friedman said the library is well used, with 782 active library cards accounting for roughly half the small town’s population.

“They want to learn about things, they want to raise chickens, they want to further their education, all sorts of things,” Friedman said.

The library’s four computers draw a steady stream of users who don’t have access to the Internet or printers and scanners at home, and the bookshelves remain a draw despite doom and gloom predictions in the face of the ascendent digital technology.

“A lot of people say the Internet is going to replace library services, but actually what has happened is it has enhanced it,” Friedman said, particularly in a low-income community where people need but can’t necessarily access or afford the Internet, computers, printers and scanners.

The library offers e-books, Friedman said, but people still prefer the paper kind and the demand for new books strains the existing shelf space.

With space limited, Friedman tailors the collection closely to demand. The reference section is limited, poetry is scarce and there’s only room for a handful of Shakespeare’s plays. Research materials are left to school libraries, except in the area of local history, of which the library has a wealth of unique books.

“We serve a community and its curiosity — how to raise chickens, how to make cheese, that’s their research,” Friedman said. The library relies heavily on inter-library loan — to the tune of 2,500 items a year, compared to a total collection of 9,000 — for the books there isn’t space to stock, and Friedman says she has to be tough in disposing of books that don’t leave the shelves.

The letter of intent is just the first step, and if accepted would be followed by a study examining what form a renovation and expansion, move or rebuild would take, and carries no financial commitment, Friedman said.

The letter is due Sept. 13, and the board opted to sleep on the matter until a later meeting.

If the effort has the support it needs and everything goes smoothly at every level, Friedman said patrons would be walking through the new doors in about five years.

Erving’s is not the only area library limited by a small, old building and Friedman said the grant process is competitive, but she has been through it before and works as a consultant for other libraries with the same aim, and is confident of Erving’s chances.

Other area towns have already benefitted from the grants, with Wendell, Warwick, New Salem and Leverett all with new buildings.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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