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My Turn: Imagine a brand new inclusive, advanced Greenfield library

To build our city’s economic base, this is the building in which we should be investing

  • JABLON

  • Greenfield Public Library’s front entrance, with a banner announcing the grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. Dan Desrochers/STAFF PHOTO



Thursday, August 09, 2018

For many of my neighbors, the excitement of imagining a new library in Greenfield exceeds even mine. When they heard about the $9.38 million grant from the state that would cover more than half of the cost, they didn’t imagine just a new library for themselves. Instead, they began to imagine any library accessible to them.

Recently I was astounded when I heard a couple of people in town question if we need a new library building. So, I informally surveyed my closest 10 neighbor’s households. In these, three people with limited mobility can’t climb the current library’s front steps. Nor can they get to the basement door, as the nearest someone to assist is 71 feet away. In order to get in, they would need to traverse a fairly rugged incline, rain, and ice and snow in the winter.

Another two households have children in strollers, whose parents have nowhere safe to put their strollers when they use the rear basement entrance. Neither of these situations can be remedied since Greenfield’s current library, built as a residence in the 18th century, is now on the Historic Register and cannot be modified.

Also among my neighbors are four preteens and teens, who unlike their peers in every other place where I have lived previously to Greenfield, don’t have a dedicated room for their materials. There is so little room in the current building that there’s only a half row of books for each of these age groups. Worse yet, if they live in a noisy household and need a quiet place in the library to do their homework, separate from checkout counters and computer users, it’s not available due to space limitations.

Our library is the most used municipal building in our city with over 500 patrons a day — over 161,000 visitors in fiscal year 2018. It serves a broad cross-section of our city and county populations who come to create, read, learn and write. People get assistance with technology including computers, the internet, printers and also reference materials as they search for jobs at all levels of the economic spectrum. I recently calculated that the materials I regularly borrowed in a given year — it would’ve cost me over $4,200 if I needed to purchase them.

Unlike other city agencies, the library has a public service return on investment of $5.70 for every Greenfield tax dollar invested. The Greenfield Public Library saved our citizens over $4.9M in FY2018. Just imagine what a new facility could do for our community.

As we try to attract companies to invest in Greenfield, the first two amenities they seek for their employees are schools and libraries for their children and themselves. When I moved to Greenfield 15 years ago, my young kids used the library until they reached 5th grade. After that point, it was no longer an inviting place for them. Instead they used other towns’ libraries that offered them so much more. If we want to build our economic base, this is the building we need to invest in, just as we did with our amazing new high school.

Beyond our economic goals, libraries throughout the history of our country, state and city have provided a forum for our citizens to create their vision for their communities. In addition to researching new ideas for its citizens to consider, it provides a place for daily dialogue about envisioning our futures, dialogues based on the immense human knowledge and achievement that our libraries hold. The new building will not only offer better, spacious and comfortable facilities for workshops and forums, but also smaller study rooms, tutoring spaces and informal networking spaces for you and your fellow community members.

In addition to increased accessibility, the new building will also provide library youth service rooms where families can engage in learning activities and help their children develop cognitive, motor, social and executive function skills, which have lifelong effects that boost academic achievement and job success. The pre-teen and teen section of the library will allow them to team-up or work individually to learn computer coding, robotics, math, engineering and other technology skills. This is in addition to the incredibly expanded array of books, literary and artistic activities, as well as environmental and other research materials. It will be a wonderfully creative place for teens to congregate and learn after school and on weekends.

Adults will no longer have to wait in line to use computers and printers or to find quiet spaces to work. There will be many more shelves for books, videos and audio books for you to peruse in numerous comfortable, well-lit open rooms. Restrooms won’t necessarily need to be locked, as they are currently, because they are squirreled away in an inaccessible basement. My neighbors will be able to be dropped off 6 feet from the front door, along with disabled people, and parents with strollers. Our new library will be inclusive rather than exclusive.

So to answer those asking if we need a new library, I say, how could we NOT build a new library that serves everyone? Especially when the state is matching our contribution more than dollar for dollar. As a taxpayer, I want my city councilors to vote for this project.

Paul Jablon is co-chair of the Friends of the Greenfield Public Library.