The firm hired to update the Woodstock Library’s Master Plan clued the public in on its findings from tours of the library made by local citizens, took more input and reminded people that no decisions are going to be made immediately. “Change is never easy,” said Library Planner Alex Cohen of the firm ADG Cohn to a filled Mescal Hornbeck Community Center on the morning of September 10. Noting that libraries are often slow to change, he said, “you really should only see someone like me every 20-30 years.”
The information was based on responses from groups of 6-10 people that were invited to 10 visual scan tours of the library and its surrounding property. Some were invited because they are frequent patrons, while other groups were made up of random residents of the library district.
ADG Cohn was chosen from 18 responses to a request for proposals to help the library update its Master Plan. That important document will guide the library in its plans to renovate a space that many agree is small and outdated.
After a contention scuttled a plan for an annex on the site of the former Library Laundromat, trustees are seeking more public input as part of the Master Plan update. Summarizing the findings from the visual scans, Cohen said most gave high grades for the exterior, and were even willing to give the narrow entrance a bit of a pass. But those marks dropped as soon as the groups walked inside, where many described the circulation and computer area as cramped and cluttered. Accessibility for disabled persons is a major issue, with barely enough room to enter the doorway in a wheelchair, he noted.
Showing photos of the interior, Cohen said, “We find people sitting on the floor. What that means is there are not enough seats.” Even when there are available seats, sometimes people need a place to charge their phone or tablet, he said. “What you have is 19th-20th century wood frame residential buildings that are trying to serve as a library,” said Architect Harvey Cohn, who detailed the infrastructure issues.
Alex Cohen compared walking through the library to a Hansel and Gretel story. “Everything’s beautiful upstairs, then you go downstairs and go ‘oh my god,’” he said, while showing a photo of the frequently flooded basement which houses the furnace and electrical panel. “This is not acceptable,” he said, cautioning that those conditions must be addressed in the short term.
After Cohen and Cohn’s presentations, groups participated in an activity Cohen called the “dotmocracy” in which people placed colored dots on photos they thought may be good ideas to implement. Green was the first choice, yellow for second and red for third.
Photos were in categories of Touch Points, which are where people interact, such as the circulation desk, collaborative space where people work on projects, social space and reflective space, which is a quiet area. After some confusion, Cohen revealed the results would not drive any decisions, but the activity was meant to foster discussion.
Homage to the annex plan?
Since there is limited space to expand, any renovation may involve tearing town adjacent structures, such as the book barn in which the weekend book sales are held. That fostered discussion at one table about where to move that important activity.
Trustee-elect Rebecca Daniels said her group discussed “The possibility of having a very inexpensive pre-fab building where the annex had been proposed, with a little cafe, and maybe we could raise $50,000 a year for the library.” Daniels said the new building could have year-round sales because it would be heated and protect the books from the elements.
Former Facilities Task Force member Jerry Washington, who was at the same table, had a different take. “All I would add is, that was perhaps the vision of several people at that end of the table,” he said.
One group was divided about the process and the “dotmocracy” activity, but said it still had positive results. The meeting “exposed a lot of ideas,” Trustee Elaine Hammond said.
“Initially I was a little disturbed by the process,” said Joe Mangan, former task force member and retired architectural planner. “I see what you’re doing is fostering discussion.”
What about the town’s youth?
One group talked about the importance of outreach to young people, an often overlooked demographic. Trustee Barry Samuels said his group suggested going to school librarians to arrange talks with students.
Earlier in the meeting, resident Jay Cohen expressed concern the youth were not in attendance and that only a segment of the population who regularly attend meetings was present.
No matter what ADG Cohn recommends, it won’t be done without ample opportunity for public input through forums and similar meetings. In the final phase, trustees will be presented with a variety of options. “One of those options should be outside of the box,” Cohen said.