Those were some of the questions as Library trustees sat down with architects for their first working session on June 28, as part of updating the institution’s master plan. The Library board has taken this first step in a more transparent process to share ideas and seek public input in addressing the library’s space needs.
“One of the challenges with library planning is to be consensus building,” said Alex Cohen of Aaron Cohen Associates, a firm with expertise in library planning. Cohen is part of a team assembled called ADG Cohn, which includes Architect Harvey Cohn.
Cohn was in attendance largely to observe and gather ideas. The team will funnel ideas to Cohn based on the workshops and he will come up with designs.
The goal of the working sessions is to listen to the trustees and gain insight into the library’s needs to develop a plan for the future, Cohen said.
The team will make mistakes along the way, it was acknowledged, and that’s ok, “as long as it’s not a big mistake,” Cohen said. As ideas are proposed, some will be unworkable but will be a learning experience, he noted.
Woodstock is not alone in its failed attempts to get an expansion, most recently in the form of an annex on the former Library Laundromat property. Failure is common, Cohen said. “When there’s a failure, it’s because early on in the process, there wasn’t enough listening.”
That is criticism the library board heard as it proposed the annex. Trustees were accused of not being transparent and failing to allow enough public input before an architect was chosen and a projected $500,000 project exceeded $1 million. Though the money was to come through wealthy donors from a massive fundraising campaign, opponents criticized the scale and lack of environmental sensitivity because of the creek on the property.
Trustees were asked to point out the library’s strengths and many pointed out the long list of programs and the staff’s ability to be resourceful and think on the fly.
“My early interactions with the Woodstock Library were breathtakingly positive,” trustee Jesse Jones said. When he first moved to the area, Jones asked if the library had a projector so a group could show old 35mm movies. He was told the didn’t, but a few days later, a staffer had tracked down someone with a projector. He was amazed they went to such lengths.
“We have an amazing staff,” trustee Selma Kaplan said. “They seem to be able to turn straw into gold.” She said a knitting group was a recent example of something that came out of an idea and the staff worked to make it happen. “They do the most they can, squeezing each nickel until it hurts,” she said.
The staff also does not have a consolidated workspace and Director Janet Dymond is often displaced from her office so a local organization can meet. Vice President Dorothea Marcus pointed out this meeting was held in town offices because it was during library hours and the library does not have space to meet while not disturbing patrons.
A book castle
An obvious answer to helping the dedicated staff provide services more efficiently is with more space, but that doesn’t have to mean building a mega-library. Through advances in technology and different approaches to storage, the library can gain more space while minimizing the size of an expansion, it was explained. “We call it a book castle,” said Cohen. Eliminating wide aisles and stacking books closer together means more space is available for performances, technical assistance and a host of other programs. Patrons request a book and through automation, it is delivered from densely stacked shelves to the circulation desk. Such as solution is expensive, but can be offset through regular book sales that can be expanded with the newly available space, Cohen said.
But some trustees said such a system will deny patrons of the browsing experience. “You’re going along and a book just calls to you,” said Trustee Jill Fisher.
Cohen said the bulk of materials could still be in dense storage, but more popular and seasonal items could be rotated into the public area for the browsing experience.
Whatever is done, it must be planned carefully so trustees and planners aren’t back at the table too soon. “The big mistake would be you go through the process, then five years later, you have to change it,” Cohen said.
Some trustees noted that library fell victim to that in the past, as is evident by the hodgepodge of rooflines, additions that were made to the building over the years.
Cohen agreed with the sentiment of trustees that the library isn’t just a place for books or to use a computer, but also serves the purpose of a “social commons,” as Trustee George Finsrud described it.
The 20th Century concept of a library was that of a fortress with boundaries between patrons and the services and materials, Cohen said. But it is now thought of as a meeting space and community resource.
Books and materials don’t have to be in one place, as is the case with the interlibrary loan service through the Mid-Hudson Library System. Patrons can search an online catalog and choose a book, which is delivered to the library within a day or two.
“I wonder if that’s the future of the library, that it doesn’t really exist in any one particular space,” Finsrud said.
The next phase in the process includes visual scans of the library property with different types of patrons and groups to gather input on strengths and weaknesses. Those will be scheduled for later in July.