Grant may spell extra elbow room for Voluntown Public Library

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Voluntown - posted Mon., Jan. 13, 2014
Library board members meet in the facility's only suitable space, the middle of the children's room. A state library grant will provide half the funds to double the size of Voluntown Public Library.  Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Library board members meet in the facility's only suitable space, the middle of the children's room. A state library grant will provide half the funds to double the size of Voluntown Public Library. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

A $402,700 grant from the state could allow Voluntown Public Library to more than double its floor space and give all patrons – adults, young adults, kids, wheelchair-bound, even infants – some welcome elbow room.  Interim Library Director Cathy Rubin said that the proposed addition will increase the library’s existing 1,920-square-foot space, with an 80- by 40-foot addition connected to the existing area by a 14-foot by 16-foot hallway.

“I’m so excited. I love talking about it,” Rubin said. The addition would house an enlarged adult reading area, a dedicated young adult area, and a 750-square-foot meeting room that could be used even when the library is closed.

The tiny building has been bulging at the seams almost from the time it opened in 1999. Rubin said that the young adult section of the library is currently jammed into an 8-foot by 8-foot corner of the children’s section. “We don’t get many young adults in here, partly because we have no place for them,” she said. “Only two people can be in there, and the shelves are cram-packed with books.”

The new YA space would measure 15 feet by 30 feet and would include comfortable, teen-friendly furniture and computer space. “I think that by having a space for [young adults], we’ll be able to attract them and provide programming that’s geared to them,” Rubin said.

The children’s section, which currently flows into the adult reading space, will be separated in the new building and will feature a safe learning space for infants to explore. The adult reading room will be three times the size of the current space, said Rubin. It will provide patrons with space to sit, read and socialize, as well as room for laptops. She said she also hoped it would feature a picture window to give patrons a view of the neighboring field and gazebo.

The new meeting room will have its own bathroom and entrance from the outside, enabling its use even when the library is closed. Currently, meetings and programs are conducted in the midst of the children’s section, which impedes access to the children’s area as well as to the adult computers, Rubin said. “This will enable us to have much more programming here,” she said. In addition, the meeting room will be available for use by other community groups.

The addition will also provide extra space for the circulation area, where books and other materials are checked out, along with more office storage. A real lunchroom for staff will replace the current eating space, housed in a closet-sized bathroom with shelves stacked on top of the still-standing toilet.

Rubin said she envisions an outdoor reading “room” in the space adjacent to the hallway, with comfortable seating, playground equipment for children and a view of the gazebo and fields. Rubin said she hopes to take advantage of green technology and renewable resources for the structure, using solar and other renewable energy and material sources.

Best of all, the renovation will allow full access for handicapped patrons, Rubin said. Currently, even with a handicapped-accessible ramp, wheelchair-bound patrons have a tight squeeze to get to the circulation desk. Some aisles in the adult section are too narrow for a wheelchair to navigate at all, she said. That will all change with the new addition.

The grant requires the library to track down matching funds over a three-year period, ending in November 2016. Rubin said she’s already working on writing more grant proposals, and hopes to raise the bulk of the matching funds before launching a fundraising push aimed at local residents and library patrons. That’s partly because other organizations in town are also actively fund-raising, she said.

But a tidy sum of seed money came to the library just before word of the state grant was announced, Rubin said. “A couple of months ago, one of our patrons came in and gave us $10,000. He said, ‘I’d like you to use it for the addition, but if you don’t get it you can use it for something else.’ All I need is 20 more people like that,” she joked.

Along with monetary donations, the library will be seeking out in-kind donations, such as building materials, from local businesses.

The town’s “library,” such as it was, occupied a shelved room at Town Hall for years until the former post office was enlarged and renovated into the library in 1999, Rubin said. “This building was built with all volunteer labor,” she said. The architect who designed the original library, Fred Marzec, has also designed the proposed addition, she said.

Library patrons said they’d welcome the change. “That’s going to be a great thing. They need a bigger library,” said Rosalie Kichline of Voluntown. She said she enjoys finding books about native Americans on the library’s shelves. “I come here about twice a month. I love the nooks,” she said.

Fellow patron Kathryn McNally, also of Voluntown, called the library “a godsend” when she was having computer problems. Ironically, she had to order a replacement computer part online, and the library’s Internet access allowed her to do so.

“It’s nice to know it’s here,” she said. The library’s small size and lack of crowding means there’s not much wait time to use its resources, she said. “The more accessibility, the better it is,” she said.

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