Library Review Needed
For Library Planning Committee, Seven Months of Research and Deliberation
In the dead of last winter, a new town committee began its work with monthly weeknight meetings in the library’s Raytheon Room. The 21 members of the Library Planning Committee, representing a variety of backgrounds and age groups, were appointed by the Board of Library Trustees in response to the relatively rare opportunity to apply for a grant through the 2016–17 Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program (MPLCP). For a town like Wayland, such a grant would cover up to 45 percent of construction costs for an expansion or new facility.
The Board of Library Trustees has been studying the possibilities for improvements to the Wayland Free Public Library since 2001. As longtime residents know, the library was expanded in 1988—gaining the main reading room behind the circulation desk, the Raytheon Room, and more children’s space—but the expansion was not large enough to bring the library comfortably into the 21st century.
Indoors and Out: The Research
The committee’s initial charge was to review the library’s current program, services, long-range plan, space needs, and facility on 5 Concord Road; visit other libraries in comparable towns to consider other physical layouts and service solutions; educate themselves about the MPLCP; decide whether a grant application seemed advisable at this time; and make a recommendation to the Board of Library Trustees accordingly. The group began by reviewing all of the planning and feasibility studies and community surveys that had been completed since 2002, and state statistics comparing Wayland’s library to others in the metropolitan Boston area.
Work picked up speed in the spring. After an informative meeting with Rosemary Waltos, Library Building Specialist with the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, members divided into subgroups and visited 14 libraries that had benefited from MPLCP funding in the recent past. Among many other observations, members noted that the most engaging and effective spaces were not necessarily the largest; South Hadley and Dudley, for instance, created rich, compelling facilities with relatively small footprints. Following their travels, the committee took an in-depth tour of the Wayland library to see both the public areas and the staff quarters with fresh perspective.
A study group within the committee then researched contemporary trends in library conceptualization, use, and design, and reported on forward-thinking buildings and services at facilities from California to Finland. These trends include maker spaces (collaborative building or craft spaces, often geared toward young people), dedicated teen rooms and teen programming, and buildings designed for social gathering as well as quiet study.
Another study group examined available parcels of land in Wayland for their suitability as sites for a new or expanded library. Joined by Town Planner Sarkis Sarkisian, the full committee then visited the three sites the study group deemed feasible: the current library site at 5 Concord Road, the former Department of Public Works site on Main Street, and a new site owned by the developer in the Wayland Town Center development.
Finally, the committee reviewed the findings of a new household survey—commissioned by the Board of Library Trustees and conducted by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute in spring 2015—which assessed Wayland residents’ satisfaction with their library and support for a possible building program. Most respondents (73%) said they were likely to support a library renovation, and half (50%) said they were likely to support a new building in a new location.
In Perspective: The Findings
After studying and experiencing multiple forms of input—from spreadsheets to septic capacity to teen rooms with café seating—the committee came to the unanimous conclusion that Wayland is strongly disadvantaged by its cramped, inflexible library building. As beautiful and solid as it is, the Concord Road building in its present form does not meet the community’s needs. Wayland residents, who famously prize education, use the library heavily—but they also travel to libraries in neighboring towns when they want a more comfortable experience or seek the kind of programming that Wayland’s building cannot support, such as chamber-music concerts, children’s song-and-dance programs, or lectures by marquee speakers.
It is important to note that, along with an excellent school system, a thriving library is one of many amenities that make a town desirable to new families. The committee found that, compared with peer libraries, Wayland’s has the smallest seating capacity in its reading area, the smallest function room (most peer libraries have several), the smallest children’s room (by a wide margin), no dedicated teen room, and no individual or small-group study rooms. The building also suffers from near-inaccessibility to people with mobility problems, inadequate shelf space, overcrowded offices, insufficient parking, and a hard-to-enter parking lot. None of these problems can be solved with minor adjustments. Despite a devoted, resourceful staff, the library has run out of makeshift solutions.
Based on these findings, the Library Planning Committee strongly recommends that the Wayland Board of Library Trustees apply for a 2016–17 Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program grant for new or expanded library facilities. Whether new or expanded, Wayland’s 21st-century library would not just create larger rooms for existing activities; rather, it would spur exciting growth in the scope of the library’s programs, services, collections, and ambitions, and give the town some much-needed gathering space.
We urge residents to attend Town Meeting on November 9 and vote for the appropriation of funds for library planning and design studies. (These studies are required if Wayland is to apply for a MPLCP construction grant.) The studies will establish the feasibility of renovating and expanding the current library building; establish the feasibility of building a new library on a different site; choose two sites as preliminary options; and secure concept designs for the designated two sites to further study. The Library Trustees will then select one site for further engineering studies and then schematic designs, including site plans, floor plans, and zoning and traffic evaluations. A cost estimate will be the final step.
The Wayland Free Public Library has served the town for more than 150 years. Today, libraries increasingly serve as community centers, performance venues, and contact points for innovative hardware and software technologies. The Library Planning Committee believes that residents deserve a library that meets their needs for intellectual engagement, community cohesion, and quality of life. With significant state funding available, now is the time for Wayland to make a new investment in the future of its free public library.
Chair, Wayland Library Planning Committee