It’s near impossible to take in any information these days without putting it through a COVID-19 filter. And so I did as I listened to an architect describe plans for Wellesley Free Library main building interior renovations, for which $270K in design/engineering funding was approved at Town Meeting a year ago.
During this week’s Permanent Building Committee online meeting, Stewart Roberts detailed the plans, which are designed to, gulp, bring people together and get kids and adults engaged in the sort of hands-on activities currently forbidden.
“The library is in good shape but it is 20 years old and the nature of library services has evolved in the last 20 years,” said Roberts, whose firm also worked on the Fell branch redo. “This project is about bringing bringing library services up to a level people expect today… more interactive, more engaging and creating more spaces for people… and we’ve backed off the book collection a little bit.”
Every time Roberts described a cool new thing, like an electronic wall that kids could interact with or a pin wall that they can press their faces or hands into in a re-imagined children’s room, I couldn’t help thinking about our current no-touch society.
A move to more self check-in could be COVID-19-friendly, as long as wipes, etc., are handy near touchscreens. But know that we are talking about an overall $3.1M-plus project that isn’t slated for construction until next year (when the library closes for construction, at least we’ll have had practice).
The children’s room is in for big changes designed to allow for more activities. The entrance will even be changed to hit you in the face with an open activities space, with butterfly sculptures, rather than the circulation desk, which will be moved off to the side. A sigh of relief came over the meeting when Roberts assured Permanent Building Committee members that the mighty fish tank will be moved but visible from both the children’s room and a new commons area where you can grab coffee from a dispenser, hold a book group, and hang out with people.
Much of the design centers around flexibility, allowing space to be re-purposed for various activities, such as a 3D printer-fueled maker events or a poetry slam.
Some of the design changes are being made to welcome library visitors to the real library sooner upon their entrance into the building. Walls will be removed to make it less of a going from lobby to lobby feel when you come in through the parking lot entrance. The traditional big circulation area will shrink.
Upstairs changes will be more subtle, mainly involving some more cozy lounge seating, a more consolidated computer area and more study rooms (equipped with wall monitors). Better lighting is proposed, too.
One thing’s for sure with the changes that are afoot, as library director Jamie Jurgensen says: “The library is no longer a quiet place. We’ve been a community gathering place for a long time.” But Wellesley is fortunately to have 2 levels, Jurgensen says, so the top floor can at least be kept to a low hum even if noises rises from time to time from the lower and soon-to-be more active lower level.
[Note: The library discussion takes up about 45 minutes near the beginning of the Permanent Building Committee meeting, in case you want to review it yourself.]