Catherine Creedon

Posted on 31 May 2012

web convo creedon

In advance of her talk for the Sag Harbor Historical Society this weekend, the director of the John Jermain Memorial Library talks about the building project meant to bring Sag Harbor’s library into the 21st century and how the way people are using their local library is changing, and not necessarily in the ways you would guess.

It has been about a year since JJML was given approval to move forward with the restoration of its historic library and now the expansion is also in full swing. Does it even seem real after all of these years?

This has truly been an ever evolving and unfolding process, but for me, I don’t think it ever didn’t seem real. It was exciting that we finally got our permits in place but I always had confidence in this community and the village to see this through to a positive end with the library team. It might have taken longer than we expected, but I have been able to picture this project as a reality for a long time.

Where is the building project at right now?

We are still working on the restoration of the façade and the interior. The stained glass laylight has been removed and out of our first New York State Library Construction Grant we were able to take that laylight apart, clean the glass and re-lead it. That is completed and will be moved back to the library when construction is nearly finished. We also picked out our mortar, which is a lot more interesting than it sounds. It took us four tries to get the historic look we were looking for and we ended up using a local sand rather than one that was manufactured to get there and it is perfect. We are 45 percent done with the re-mortaring, which is being done by hand. We are also working on our dome and we do need to do some additional probe work to see how solid it is and engineer it so it is good for another 100 years. The windows have also been taken out and are being restored.

We expect to break ground on the addition in July, be framed by November and will complete both interiors of the old and new library after that.

Working with a 102-year-old building, how has the library’s architects attempted to highlight the original building with an addition that nearly doubles the size of JJML?

Visually, the new addition is actually a few square-feet bigger than the existing building, but it sits lower, below the limestone cornice. It is an airy building, shadowed. It visually recedes from the historic building. The end of that addition is also of the scale, size and height of the residences that line Jefferson and Union streets, so from Main Street it should almost read as two additional structures behind our library, blending into the surrounding community.

Aesthetics aside, just as architecture has changed, so has the use of libraries. As a life long librarian how are we using libraries in this day-and-age?

I think that is one of the most exciting things about the building project and what I want to talk about at the Saturday lecture is this could not have come at a better time for the people of Sag Harbor. While in our temporary space, we have been learning a lot about how people use the library in Sag Harbor. We have taken that knowledge and incorporated it into how the interior of our new library is being developed.

What changes have you seen?

First, there is the obvious shift from print to electronic media, but there is a general openness to understand information comes in a variety of different forms and one of the most popular formats at the library has been face-to-face instruction. In March and April of 2011, we had 211 people use our programs. In 2012 over 500 people used our programs over the same period and we are in a smaller space. We showed the movie “Forks Over Knives” and we had 46 people come to that public showing because I think there is a real interest in the community in terms of looking at the library as a place for public discourse. Even though this movie could have been checked out, people felt it was a topic best understood in conversation with others.

How has that changed the building project?

We have gone back to the architects and made the back wall of a meeting room a NanaWall that can be pulled back to open that area up to the lobby for larger gatherings. A staff and storage area has been converted into a content creation lab with voice recognition software, movie and music editing tools and my dream is to have a 3-D printer. Another big thing we are seeing and trying to incorporate is that traditionally libraries served individuals, but we are a larger part of the Sag Harbor community. So we are trying to develop programming for business owners, looking into collaborative programming like this talk, working with GeekHampton on technology related programming and partnering with Alateen and AARP to provide meeting space.

At the end of the day, I really see this restoration and expansion as being a metaphor for everything else we are doing at JJML.

The Sag Harbor Historical Society will host its luncheon with Catherine Creedon on Saturday, June 2 from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. at The American Hotel on Main Street in Sag Harbor. For more information or to register, call Nancy Achenbach at 725-5092.

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