Members of the New Paltz community continued a process last Sunday of discussing what they’d like to see in the Elting Memorial Library of the future. At the top of the collective list are ways to address the parking: not the actual spaces per se, but things like avoiding the long uphill walk if all one wishes to do is drop off a book. Those in attendance all got to cast votes on what should be prioritized going forward, as will anyone else who comes into the library in the coming days and interacts with circulation desk staff.
Paul Mays, a library specialist with the architectural firm of Butler Rowland Mays, began meeting with stakeholder groups and community members last year as part of the information-gathering phase of this work; his time was paid for by an anonymous donor. The session held this week, essentially a wrap-up of that part of the process, would have occurred last November if not for that one snow storm which forced its cancellation.
Mays summarized what occurred has already occurred during this period of public engagement around design, referred to as a charrette. Examples of good uses of library spaces were shown as a slideshow, and they included what the architect considers some of the best examples at Elting as well as areas which could stand for improvement. Labels which turn the flowers along the ramp to the lot into an exhibit made his list of favorites, while the “bean bag in the corner” as a teen space was singled out as something which might need changes to best serve its target population. Another win: the fact that there remains a courtyard, which easily could have been filled in over the years; Mays has found that many patrons aren’t aware of its existence, much like those that don’t know much about the valuable historic collection housed under this roof.
Libraries are cultural touchstones, Mays said, where patrons prefer to spend time rather than simply transact. While the core of knowledge in some ways is shifting away from traditional bound books, librarians remain important knowledge guides, perhaps even more when it comes to curating information found online. Computers at Elting get heavy use, and Mays said that this is in part because new phones make home computers less common, but “no one wants to write a resume on one.” Books do remain important, as well as little nooks and other spaces where people of all ages can read them.
The voting took place after the overview. Using areas raised during stakeholder meetings, attendees were given stickers to make their preferences known, or even to add new ideas not yet represented. By and large, the focus was all about the parking. The lot which was established during the 2006 renovation is several hundred feet from the entrance, and it’s an uphill slope. The distance allows the slope of the ramp to comply with the relevant laws, but it’s still a fair walk that can take its toll, particularly on those using wheelchairs or walkers, or pushing strollers. Moreover, arriving at the lot does not give one the same historic facade visible at the front; it’s not even entirely clear to a newcomer how one gets to the entrance after parking. Addressing the distance, the directions and ways to do simple things like dropping off books collectively received the highest number of votes.
Those themes are echoed in the building; it can be unclear how to find a particular space and both the lobby and circulation desk are small and lack clear directional aids. Nevertheless, it was the parking that got the most attention. Other areas which garnered many votes included expanding technology offerings and improving reading spaces, but nearly all of the couple dozen categories got at least one person’s interest.
Mays gave a bonus vote to people who took a moment to answer one more open-ended question about the role of the library, and as the session was concluded, he noted that New Paltz residents seem to understand the distinction between a library being the center of the community and being community-centered, which he called an important distinction. Patrons who stop by Elting in the next few weeks — a specific time frame was not laid out — will be able to add a vote of their own to the big boards, sharing in this visioning process. Then the votes will be tallied, the needs prioritized and all that will be left for library board members is to figure out how to pay for the projects which emerge.