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Ilsley Library looks to expand childrens’ library in new town offices

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday, Nov. 19, will be asked to expand the design for a new municipal building at 77 Main St. in order to accommodate a new children’s library.
Members of the Ilsley Public Library Board of Trustees are spearheading the request, which they said is driven by what has been a steady increase in transactions at the current children’s library located in the lower level of the Ilsley. They also contend the current space is too small, suffers from water intrusion and inadequate air circulation, and has virtually no natural light.
“We have to give away older books to make way for new books,” Ilsley Library Director Kevin Unrath said on Friday of the facility’s lack of shelf space.
Since the town last expanded the Ilsley Library 26 years ago, children’s use of the Ilsley Library has increased by 50 percent, according to Unrath. Children last year checked out 40 percent of all books lent by the Ilsley, accounting for a major portion of the 188,000 person-visits to the historic Main Street building.
The Ilsley has in recent years significantly increased the number and variety of its children’s programs beyond traditional story times and summer reading programs. These new programs focus on teaching children to create content through writing workshops and instruction in digitized media, video production, animation, electronic music, computer software, and digital photography. The library also offers early childhood literacy programming.
Trustees in 2007 formed a Space Study Committee that identified seven library functions requiring more space. Two of the seven were identified as “young teen space” and “multi-purpose children’s activities space.” The committee recommended some possible solutions for the space crunch, including an addition to the southwest corner of the building. The three-story addition would have added 5,500 square feet of space that would have, among other things, provided more room for children’s programs. That plan was not pursued, due in part to limited funds and the logistics of building onto a historically significant structure. The addition would have also eaten up a small garden/green space adjacent to the library.
Library officials are now seeking to land the additional space through the new municipal building, which would be erected next door at 77 Main St., in place of Middlebury College’s Osborne House. Current plans call for a 9,500-square-foot municipal building that would feature a pedestrian link to the library. Trustees are asking the selectboard to consider expanding the building design by 3,000 to 4,000 square feet to host the children’s library.
“As long as (the town) is exploring this as an option, we want it to be as well thought-out as possible,” Unrath said.
Trustees are offering $10,000 from a bequest to pay for additional architectural services that might be required to weave the library space request into the town office plan.
“The library does not expect Middlebury taxpayers to pay the full cost of this project,” reads the trustees’ formal request, sent to the selectboard last week. David Andrews, chairman of the Ilsley trustees, said the library would do some fundraising to contribute some funds to the project.
Andrews and his colleagues believe the children’s library could function well within the new municipal building, preferably on the ground floor.
“We thought it could be a fun juxtaposition,” Andrews said of the children’s programing and the business activities within the new structure. “We are trying to humanize the whole scene. It could be very special.”
Asked what the library might do with the current children’s library space if it is vacated, Andrews said it could host a media lab (in partnership with Middlebury Community Television) and/or the public computer terminals that are now stationed on the main floor of the library.
Andrews hopes the selectboard takes a shine to the library’s request. He believes it makes sense and is timely.
“We are at a critical juncture, in terms of the town building process,” Andrews said, adding trustees are concerned that if the library’s needs are not addressed in the new municipal building, those needs will be “put off into the indefinite future.”
Library officials sum up their sentiments in the conclusion to their formal request to the selectboard.
“Middlebury can save hundreds of thousands of dollars and best fulfill its commitment to our children by acting now to build a 21st century children’s library in the proposed town office building,” the request reads.
“The price is right; the need is clear; and delay will raise the cost and consign our children to third-rate space and inadequate services.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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