Community Wants “More” From John Jermain Memorial Library

Posted on 31 October 2008

Some of the 44 people who attended Saturday morning’s forum on the future of the John Jermain Memorial Library may have initially felt they were experiencing déjà vu, as they were urged, once more, to discuss the state of services at Sag Harbor’s public library, rather than where and how big any expansion to the historic institution should be.

Regardless, following the three-hour session, John Jermain Memorial Library Director Cathy Creedon said one thing was certain – people wanted more from their community library.

“That was the key word as I went over my own notes – more,” said Creedon on Wednesday. “It was really remarkable to me as I look through them. People asked for more quiet space, more programs, more services for working parents, more activities and services for seniors, more books, more parking, more hours, just more. That single word really sums it up.”

The John Jermain Memorial Library has been struggling to address its needs for several years now, with a failed $8 million referendum to build a new library at Mashashimuet Park in 2004.

In looking towards a new referendum, the board of trustees ultimately tapped Newman Architects, a New Haven, Connecticut firm this June.

They were charged “to work with the library director, the board, the staff and the community to design a building program that will best serve the Sag Harbor community’s library needs.”

The wording of their charge was a marked departure from the library board’s previous commitment to one library, two buildings – the second building still slated for a triangle shaped parcel next to the park – giving the new architects latitude to discover what it was the Sag Harbor community sought in a library.

On Saturday, Newman Architects and the board of trustees embarked on the first of what will be a series of community forums about the library. The goal of the meeting was to focus on library services, rather than space and location, which has been the focus of virtually every discussion regarding the library in recent years.

“I think it is going to be very important that you pass the word along that we need to hear your voices,” said Creedon to the crowd, almost half of which was comprised of board and staff members. “If we do this, I promise you there will not be voices lost in the wilderness.”

“What we are here to do today is to try and hear the community and give the community a chance to get to know us,” said architect Richard Munday.

 According to architect Michael Scott, the charter of the John Jermain Memorial Library expanded from a book repository into a greater community resource early in its history. The current library was built in 1910.

“Already rather than a repository, it was thought of as a cultural icon,” said Scott. “This was a nexus for the community.”

On one hand, the library currently is an archive and on the other hand has strong community outreach initiatives, noted Scott, and is continuing to expand its services.

The firm has already broken down the current layout and use of the library, which they noted is both well loved and well utilized. Munday noted that it was only 10 years after the library was built that space was cited as an issue, but said he would rather the group focus their energy on discussing what the needs of the library are rather than cost and space.

“Think about what this library can be as a gift to you and your children,” he said.

Sag Harbor resident Mac Griswold said the community had been through “many of the dreaming episodes with the library.” What she wants, she said, is a demographic look at how the population will grow in the next 20 years.

“This is about describing needs, not extents,” said Munday.

The larger group split into four focus groups to discuss specifically the current state of services at the library, what they liked, what they disliked and what they would like to see in the future. At the close of the forum, each group presented their findings to the architects, who will in turn come back to Sag Harbor on December 6 and present a possible future program for John Jermain Memorial Library at the second community meeting.

 “This was really about the library’s mission, but because the mission has been embodied in the building, the conversation did tend to gravitate to the building itself,” he acknowledged.

The presence of the building as a community icon was important to all groups, he said.

“The most mission-specific was a unanimous like of the mix of users and services at the library,” he said.

Space was another issue everyone seemed to agree on, he said, most specifically that the library needs more of it and that it needs to be more accessible.

Creedon said a diverse range of opinions was on tap during the forum’s final discussion, agreeing the inter-generational feel of the current library was beloved by many.

“I do wish there would have been more participation, more people there,” admitted Creedon. “I thought it was a great first meeting, but I do wish more people had been there. While there were 26 people who represented different ranges of the community, we needed more members to generate the kind of variety we were hoping for.”

At the next forum, she said, the library staff has already discussed hosting the event at the library instead of the high school and offering child care to any one in need, as well as teleconferencing to allow everyone an opportunity to participate.

Scott said the firm would take the community suggestions on services and craft it into a projected future program to be shared with the community on December 6.

“The core assignment is how to address this issue,” he said. “If everyone said we need more space, we have to try and figure out how we can address that.”

Top photo: Sag Harbor resident and school board member Mary Ann Miller talks about what she would like to see at an expanded John Jermain Memorial Library. Middle photo: Residents who attended Saturday’s forum on the future of library sat in break-out groups to brainstorm ideas. 


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