Cramped quarters. Structural steel stacks that cannot be moved. Too few windows. A children’s area that is cut off from the rest of the building. Restricted accessibility for those with disabilities.
And, of course, inadequate parking.
Those are just some of the details of a recent study of the Williamsburg Regional Library at 515 Scotland St. prepared by RRMM Lukmire Architects for the library’s board of trustees.
In addition, the study cited several security concerns, noting that the library’s layout keeps staff from effectively monitoring activity in the building and that visitors can directly access the children’s area without passing the circulation desk.
Library Director Betsy Fowler recently led members of the board of trustees on a tour of library so they could see many of the issues pointed out in the report, from the cramped stacks to windowless work spaces in the basement.
Fowler emphasized that the report is just a starting point for a public conversation about the future of the library and that no decisions have been made.
“We want the public to have a forum for input, so we want to have forums and focus groups and hear what the people say,” she said. “It’s to help people understand the facts behind the request.”
According to the assessment, the library should be at least 50,000 square feet. The present structure is around 40,000 square feet.
To achieve that, the report lays out three possible scenarios:
In the first option, the single-story children’s area would be demolished to make way for a two-story addition while keeping the rest of the existing library, including the auditorium. This, however, would require library services to be relocated for up to two years.
The second option would demolish the entire library and replace it with a two-story structure. This plan would have a smaller footprint, resulting in more parking spaces at the library’s present site. However, this plan also would require library services to be relocated for up to two years.
The third option is to build a new library elsewhere, constructing a facility to meet long-term needs and ensuring adequate parking for patrons, the report said. This option also would enable the library to stay open during construction and eventually repurpose the site.
Looking toward the future
In an interview with WYDaily, Fowler and board of trustees Chairwoman Natalie Miller-Moore laid out their vision for a new Williamsburg library and how they want the community to be involved in mapping its future.
“We want to be a 21st century library,” Miller-Moore said. “We know what that looks like; this is not it. Lets talk about the ways that we can meet the community needs better.”
Miller-Moore said the board is aware of the affection patrons have for the library, which has been a fixture in downtown Williamsburg since the early 1970s.
“People love the library so much that they don’t want it to change,” she said.
In addition to being sources of information, Fowler noted that there is a growing trend among libraries across the nation to become hubs of creation.
“What we’re seeing in new libraries is a real emphasis on people space,” she said. “People want to come to the library and they want to create. They want to create media products. They want to meet with people. They want to work together. They want to collaborate. And they need different types of spaces to do that.”
Fowler said she and the board want to be transparent in the process of planning the library’s future.
“We want the community to be involved,” she said. “We want them to be educated about the issues. We want to hear their voices.”
Both Fowler and Miller-Moore stressed that although discussions are beginning now, it will be as many as six years before the project is complete.
“We really want to educate people about how exciting the possibilities are,” Fowler said. “This is really about the community and how library can serve the community better.”