The Highland Public Library Board held its first of three public forums last Thursday night to help determine the future of its building: a 2,900-square-foot former residential house in the center of the hamlet that is bursting at the seams with books, programs and services that its staff would like to provide but does not have the room to do so.
This quest to expand and relocate, began in the 1980s, when the board realized that the house that the library was in could no longer accommodate the growing volume of books, CDs, movies and programs for children and adult that its patrons required. After years of looking at various sites and bringing in engineers, architects, community members and those with library expertise, the board settled on a plan to purchase a building at 10-12 Commercial Avenue. That plan was put to a public vote in 2010, when it was voted down by 91 votes out of approximately 1,500 ballots cast.
Joanne Loewenthal, the board president, gave a presentation to the public on the history of the library, unofficially formed in 1905 as an offshoot of the women’s suffrage movement for local female residents to have a place to gather and read and talk about the issues of the day. It became a chartered library officially in 1915, cost $2 a year to be a member and had approximately 650 books to serve 1,600 residents.
Almost a century later, it is now a public library, whose boundaries are in sync with the Highland School District. It has approximately 28,000 books and 6,000 CDs and videos, services 12,514 residents with approximately 55,000 visits to its humble home per year, with an annual budget raised by taxes of $386,094.
Loewenthal said that a study commissioned in 1989, when the board first began the search for ways to expand or relocate the library, estimated that the number of patrons served and the amount of resources circulated required 10,000 square feet, as opposed to the 2,900 square feet in which it was — and still is — operating.
She went through the list of properties that the board had considered and studied, particularly 10-12 Commercial Avenue, where it had entered into an agreement with the owner, Matt Smith, in 2010. That building had approximately 14,000 square feet of space, which would have provided the library with room to grow and/or utilize a portion of the building for a municipal service or another entity.
The president said that, given the small percentage of votes that ended up putting a kibosh on the 2010 plan, the board wanted to hear from members of the public as to their thoughts, concerns and suggestions on how to move forward. She talked about the fundraising that the library has been doing, its continued quest to find a location, discussions with various landlords and property-owners, as well as the disrepair that the circa-1890 library building is in.