By Kathryn G. Menu
Gathered with staff members on the lower level of the John Jermain Memorial Library on Monday, Jessica Frankel was busy at work, organizing books and papers for a move to the library’s temporary home at 34 West Water Street.
It was a bittersweet moment for the history room librarian.
“It’s a weird feeling,” she said, surrounded by co-workers. “It’s exciting, but also a little sad. This has been our home for so long, it’s hard to move out, even knowing we will be back.”
But for Frankel and the rest of the staff at JJML, it is also a moment to be celebrated, as the move signals that a long effort to restore and expand the Main Street library into one that can truly serve the whole community has come to fruition.
After being closed for two weeks, the library will re-open on July 2 at its new location across from the Sag Harbor Post Office.
Over the course of the next two years, the library’s home will remain in the downtown Sag Harbor location while a $10 million restoration and 7,000-square-foot, modern expansion is added to the rear of the historic Main Street building. The library has been plagued by a lack of heat, constant leaks, and scaffolding across the front façade that protects patrons should a piece of the exterior fall from the 100-year old structure.
In 2009, voters in the library district approved funding for the project, and two years later the library is close to final approval from Sag Harbor Village, as well as the Suffolk County Health Department to move forward with the plans.
After an exhaustive search for a temporary location, the library last year settled on the West Water Street space, which will be financed with funds from the library’s annual operating budget, and not through the referendum.
According to JJML Director Catherine Creedon, the library will spend about $100,000 fixing up the space and making it suitable for a library. Part of the money used in fixing up the space will be applied as a credit toward the rent, said Creedon, who praised the landlords for working out a deal in favor of hosting the library in their space.
The annual rent of the space will be $54,600, she said.
Last Friday, the staff was treated to a tour of its new home, a light, airy space with occasional water views. It will be the first fully handicap accessible library in Sag Harbor.
“It’s spectacular,” said Frankel. “Temporary library spaces come in all shapes and sizes. We could have ended up in a trailer for two years, so we are very lucky.
“It even has a winter water view,” added reference librarian Susan Mullin.
For Donna Fisher, who works at the front desk of JJML, the move is a long time coming.
“It’s finally happening,” she said. “This was my library when I was a kid. I used to walk here from my Suffolk Street home, so I can’t wait to come back and see this building finally fixed.”
Creedon spent Monday morning biking back and forth from Main Street to West Water Street, nervously overseeing the move in jeans and a pair of neon yellow ballet flats, which she wore despite the constant bike rides.
Creedon said about 65 percent of the JJML collection would be moved, including 100 percent of its large print materials, new books and small collections. The remainder of the regular collection will be stored at the Suffolk County Cooperative Library or in climate controlled storage in Bridgehampton.
According to Frankel, the contents of the history room have been stored in archival paper and boxes, purchased through a $6,000 grant towards preservation at the library. The history room contents will eventually be transferred to a climate controlled storage space, until they come home to a climate controlled history and archive room in the new portion of the building.
Frankel added that popular historic documents, including the notebooks that index Sag Harbor cemeteries and who is buried there and files on author John Steinbeck or artist Cappy Amundsen have been copied and will be available at the temporary space.
To decide what other books would travel to the new space, Creedon said she drew on some circulation information, but that at the end of the day she relied mostly on the staff to select what would ultimately make the move.
“And we put a few wild cards in there too,” she said, standing in the rotunda of the library while movers bustled around her. “You have to have a library collection that is alive.”
The historic furniture at JJML will also be used at West Water Street, pieces rotated in and out of the temporary space as they are restored to mint condition.
While the temporary space is just that, temporary, Creedon sees it as a new beginning for the library. She relishes the idea of directing a library that actually functions physically, with heat, the right lighting and handicap accessibility. And While Creedon views JJML as the heart of Sag Harbor figuratively, 34 West Water Street is in the heart of the village, literally.
“We are hoping to attract a little bit of a different demographic, a younger demographic, and we are really excited to create programming that will appeal to them,” she said.
In addition to programming, free wireless access, and laptop and desktop computers, the staff, with a little nudging, convinced Creedon to set up an Internet café of sorts at the entry of the new library, where patrons will be able to sit, read periodicals or surf the web while enjoying a cup of coffee.
While the library is closed, Creedon said Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton, The Hampton Library in Bridgehampton and The East Hampton Library will offer its full collection to JJML card holders.
Creedon said the library has also decided that in the spirit of new beginnings, there will be no charge for overdue books, not just from the last two weeks, but going back as far as the records show. All overdue fines will be waived, she said, although fines for lost materials will remain.
“We are so excited about the space and we want people to come and rediscover what JJML can offer,” said Creedon.