If you could build a library, what would it look like? And what would it offer that your community specifically needs? That was the topic at a collaborative workshop session held on Thursday, July 17 at St. Augustine’s gymnasium in Highland, when two dozen or so local residents sat down with the Highland Public Library Board of Trustees and Paul Mays and Meghan Brennen of Butler Rowland Mays Architects, LLP.
The purpose of the charrette (and another held two days later) was for the architectural firm to solicit information from the Highland community as to what they want from a new library, so that the architects can go back to the drawing board — literally — and design a library that reflects the needs and wants of Highland residents.
Butler Rowland Mays is the firm that will build the community’s new library if voters approve of the final plans for one.
But the vote is a long way off at this point. Right now, the only thing certain is that the current library at 30 Church St. presents too many problems to resolve at that site. A location for a new library is ready and waiting — there is a signed purchase agreement in place with St. Augustine’s Church to buy their 2.3 acre empty lot at 7 Elton Place — but that’s as far as it goes until a bond issue is passed.
The last time library trustees put a proposal before Highland voters for a new library, it lost by just 91 votes. To avoid such a scenario again, and in an effort to give the community what it wants, the trustees are going directly to the source this time.
A slide presentation was given by the architects to start the discussion off. The images shown were meant to stimulate ideas for Highland residents by showing what Butler Rowland Mays has done for other communities for whom they built or remodeled libraries. Mays told the group that while his firm designs and builds libraries exclusively, they don’t build “cookie cutter” structures. “The buildings reflect the communities they serve,” he said, “and they’re built to be flexible to allow them to shift with the times.”
A vision of what a 21st-century library can be emerged. One recurrent theme was the idea of smaller spaces inside the larger one, creating distinct areas that suit whatever activity needs to take place there. Comfort was another: the idea that a library is a so-called “third space” — with home and work being spaces one and two — and accordingly, it should offer a level of comfort associated with such spaces that are used intimately, things like reading niches that are cozier than sitting at a table in the middle of the room, and “three-hour” seating that will be comfortable for a longer period of time.
Youth of all ages use a library, so thought can be put into designing with child-friendly visuals at a young child’s eye level with things to engage them, and at the same time teenagers can help design their designated space.
There was discussion of the importance of making the style of the library fit the community, using a palette of materials and decor that reflect the history of the town. Providing the supplementary environment for the services offered is important, too: if there’s a copy machine, it ought to have a place for people to layout their materials.
And what services should a library offer its patrons these days? Having a huge collection of books on the shelves is no longer as important as it once was before the interlibrary loan system, but if people are interested in the “new and popular” books there should be an accessible place for those. Returning books can be done in a location at the back of the library so that the librarian’s desk isn’t piled with returns, freeing them to spend more time helping people. Self-checkout can be adopted, as it was in Saratoga.