John Jermain Library: Expansion Hopes to Round Out Services

Posted on 26 June 2009

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While much of a close to $10 million referendum the John Jermain Memorial Library (JJML) has proposed to Sag Harbor School District residents will cover the cost to restore and renovate JJML, as well as bring the historic structure into compliance with state codes, the 7,000 square-foot, three-story addition will also enable the library to almost double in size.

The expansion itself will cost roughly $2.5 million with the library board seeking close to $10 million from district voters on Monday, June 29. Some of the actual expansion itself, explained library director Catherine Creedon, will enable the library to meet state codes with the installation of an elevator, a second set of stairs — both mandated by the state — as well as room for a new heating and air conditioning system. However, the expansion will also enable the library to increase services to children, teens and the community at large through the creation of expanded program spaces, a climate controlled archive, a dedicated area for children and teens, a business center and a contemplative reading and study area in the third floor rotunda.

The ground floor of the addition will boast a community room, which can be sealed off from the rest of JJML, enabling the library to allow community groups to host gatherings there without having to staff the whole of the library, noted Creedon.

“As you know, there is no civic center in Sag Harbor and we do get a lot of requests to use the library,” said the director. “This meeting space will be available to those groups.”

The expansion also enables the ground floor of the library to host almost exclusively the children’s and teen collections and services. Creedon said this was planned to allow easier access for parents through the Jefferson Street entrance, which will be equipped with a storage area for strollers. The timing of the referendum, added Creedon, happens to coincide with a spike in circulation in the children’s collection.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in circulation in the children’s collection in the last few months,” she said. “While we have seen a steady increase in all areas over the past year, last month circulation of our children’s books was up 24 percent over May a year ago, and that was even before it started raining so much. I know the statistics for June will be off the chart.”

Creedon says she has seen more patrons across the board at JJML, which she attributes, in part, to the sagging economy.

“But I think once that heavy reading habit kicks in, people turn to it in other times as well when they see how enjoyable an experience it can be,” she said.

Creedon added the teen area of the ground floor has been designed with their library habits in mind, lending to a social environment where groups of teenagers can read, research and work on homework together.

“They tend to use our resources in a more social way,” explained Creedon. “They tend to do homework in groups, they tend to discuss the material they are reading more than adults and children. Reading is a social activity to them – they all want to read the same thing at once.”

On the second floor, plans call for a business center to be added to the library, which will offer a free fax, a free scanner, copy machines and large-scale computers. Creedon said the space was vital as many residents are turning to the library to provide these resources, particularly in tough economic times when many may not be able to afford the technology to further themselves professionally.

The business center will be adjacent to a computer kiosk, which will be surrounded by the library’s multimedia collection. Staff offices, virtually non-existent at the current JJML, are also proposed for the second story, as is gallery space next to expanded spaces for new books and adult fiction.

The third floor of the library, in addition to increasing space for adult non-fiction, offering a reference and periodical area, will be devoted to a climate controlled archive and contemplative reading space, which Creedon said was the original vision for the rotunda at JJML.

The archive is one of the aspects of the building plan Creedon is most excited about.

“We have a wonderful collection of historic documents of Sag Harbor that are in danger of being lost,” she explained. The documents, which range from a second edition Algonquin Language Bible – the first collection of Bibles printed in the United States – to the sketchbook and collection of William Wallace Tooker, as well as scrapbooks, photographs and newspapers recounting the village’s history, are currently held in conditions unfavorable to long term preservation, said Creedon. The expansion would create a climate and light controlled space for the collection, and enable the library to begin collecting more historic documents for preservation.

The plan is to return the rotunda to its original use, as a contemplative study space, said Creedon.

“We are anticipating the aura and silence of the New York Public Library reading room and it will be just as beautiful,” she said. The library has kept much of the original furniture for the rotunda and will return the space to its original floor plan, complete with a working fireplace.

“I picture it as a gathering space for the community, but in a different way,” said Creedon. “It will be a place to gather together and be solitary.”

While Creedon has a desire to see the referendum plan come to pass, she said on Tuesday, no matter what the outcome, she has been impressed with the support the Sag Harbor community has shown the library in anticipation of Monday’s vote.

“People care about the cultural life of the community they live in, and seeing that has been a wonderful experience,” said Creedon. “It has been great to discuss the deeper essence of what a library means to a community. Even if this doesn’t go through, the process has been very positive for me. I would recommend to any new library director, that they try and get out into their community and get outside the walls of the library to understand the presence their institution has on the community as a whole.”

The referendum vote takes place at JJML (201 Main Street, Sag Harbor) from noon to 8 p.m. on Monday, June 29.

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