The Woodstock Library’s new director Jessica Kerr is excited to be back to work, just as plans for expansion enter a new phase with a February 2 public input meeting.
“Right now we run into issues where people want quiet space and people want space where they can work together. We don’t have quite enough space to define those,” said Kerr, who resigned as head librarian in October, only to return as director January 1, replacing Janet Dymond. Kerr also served as interim director when Amy Raff left in 2015.
“I couldn’t be happier being back here,” Kerr said. “When I was interim, I knew I wasn’t director, so I didn’t jump in with both feet. Now I’m here. I’m doing everything.”
Said Kerr, “I want to have more opportunities for learning in the library. Right now we keep looking for space to have things and looking for times to have them.”
The library will continue to explore having events outside the library, “but I think there’s particular programs that really need to be here,” she said.
Kerr’s goal is to make sure the library can serve all ages in the community through its programs. “Our tech assistance has kind of been doing that. The younger generation showing the older,” she said. Patrons can make appointments for 30-minute sessions on Thursdays from noon to 4 p.m. with volunteer Will to get help with phones, tablets, setting up an email account, using Microsoft Office or any other tech issues.
“To me this library is a place where people come when they have problems, when they have questions. And we’re a resource and a safe place,” Kerr said. “There’s not many places after you grow up that you can go and say ‘I have a question. Where do I get an answer to this.’ In school you might have a teacher or something. The library is a place where it’s safe to ask questions, because some questions are scary and a lot of times, people are looking for help answering them, because they’ve reached a point where they don’t know where else to turn….Sometimes it may be as simple as ‘what do I read next?’ Other times, it may be ‘I’m being thrown out of my apartment,’ or ‘I might be losing my health insurance’ and people are looking for resources.
“We’re living in a tough time. I think that the more we can talk and discuss and try and see each other’s points of view, the better the community and our world will be,” said Kerr. “We want to be sure we’re supporting the informed and providing factual information.”
Building the library’s future
Kerr wants to make sure the library is able to offer programs and resources the community needs, even if that means a private place to ask someone a question. To that end, the library has engaged ADG Cohn, an assemblage of library planners and architects to update its master plan and suggest improvements to meet physical needs for the next 20-50 years.
On February 2, the library will seek public input on the five concepts for expanding the library.
Under ADG Cohn’s direction, the board held 14 visual scans, or walkthroughs where people graded sections of the library. That led to two meetings where people showed preferences for broad concepts of what they wanted to see in their library.
ADG Cohn then came up with five ideas ranging from a renovation with no additional space to a complete teardown and replacement.
“We’ve heard in surveys that they want more from their library,” Kerr said. “Over various building surveys and reviews, the deficiencies of this building and library have been laid out.”
The costs for each concept range from $1.75 million for the renovation of the library and book barn to $5.75 million for a new building. But Kerr points out the local taxpayers will not have to bear the full burden.
“These costs are presented without taking into consideration New York State library construction grants, other grants or other fundraising,” she said.
She also added the concepts laid out are not “one way or the highway” and the final result may include some aspects of each.
The concept of a book castle, as presented by Library Planner Alex Cohen, involves books stored in very compact stacks which are removed and returned with an automated system of trays. Less sought-after books can be stored in this manner, freeing up space for meeting rooms and programs. Some have questioned the expense and the lack of opportunity for browsing with such a system.
Kerr said the book castle is a bit further down the road in the process.
“That’s actually not something we need to decide right now. It’s going to be more of the design/schematic phase,” she said.
“Those will be decisions on how we allocate space. Depending on how much we allocate to shelving, there will be different allocations to programming and flexible spaces.”
The next steps, but no rush
After the public meeting, ADG Cohn will present the board with a plan of how to proceed. But even at that point it will “not be rushed into,” said Kerr.
“Neither the board nor I plan on rushing any kind of next steps,” she said. “Once a concept is decided upon, we’ll start the grant writing process for construction, making sure that everything is in order and we have the support from the community before we go to bonding, if that’s what’s needed.”
Added Kerr, “It’s going to be a continued process, but on the concepts, we need input now. Then we’ll work towards a design and schematic phase, which we will also be asking for input again on what they want their library to look like.”