Bixby Library plans big space changes, but won’t ask for tax dollars to pay for it
VERGENNES — The Bixby Library is about to embark on almost a quarter-million dollars of renovations, repairs and reconfigurations that its board members and director think will not only help preserve the Vergennes landmark, but also enhance the library’s ability to meet the needs of the five communities it serves.
Board members said funding for what will in fact be three separate projects will come from the library’s maintenance endowment, grants, donations, and the sale of tax credits.
They emphasized they are not seeking more money from the residents of Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, Addison, Panton and Waltham to support the repairs and upgrades.
“We also felt very strongly we didn’t want to go to the towns at this point to ask them for increased funding,” said Gail Blasius, who leads the Bixby’s space planning committee, along with Bixby Executive Director Jane Spencer. “We’ve never asked them for building maintenance (support).”
The most expensive of the three projects will start first, sometime this month, and be most evident to library patrons, who should still be able to use the library during most of the work. This first project is known as Phase 1.
For $114,000 the Bixby will get a community room in the Main Street building’s west wing with new couches and chairs, an effort that means the removal of all books from that space and the allowance of, and even encouragement of, chatter.
The project will also install a new circular circulation desk to greet visitors directly under the building’s central stained-glass dome, and a new public coffee maker, copier, and more computer terminals for public use.
That work — which library officials call Phase 1 — will take three weeks, and will be funded by the library’s maintenance endowment. They hope that will lead to a Phase 2 of larger children’s and family rooms and a meeting room on the second floor, plus an addition to house an elevator and stairway to improve access to that upper level.
And yes, said Bixby Board President Paula Moore, a former library director elsewhere who has a master’s degree in library science, the work means there will be fewer books overall. But Moore called culling of books part of a library’s job, and said the Bixby had fallen behind.
“Any public library has a book management component,” said Moore. “Part of managing a book collection is not only selecting books to add, but it’s also de-selecting things.” BIXBY MEMORIAL LIBRARY Executive Director Jane Spencer, above, stands in the middle of the main lobby where a new circulation desk will be built as part of a library reconfiguration project. Below, Bixby Youth Services Librarian Rachel Plant reads to toddlers in the cramped Children’s Room last week. A new Children’s Room will be built as part of a planned phase two renovation project.
Independent photos/Trent Campbell
Moore said books are being removed that have not been taken out in 10 or 15 years or more, while books that have been read in the past three years are being kept.
Spencer, whose planned June retirement became public last week, added that more books are being brought in regularly.
“The book budget is not being decreased,” Spencer said.
Moore said Bixby still will have room for a large collection if it makes smart purchases.
“If you’re buying the right books they’re going to be out a lot,” Moore said. “Our goal is to have a collection that is being utilized, and the books are flying off the shelves.”
Books will be removed from the central lobby as well as the community room, and they will be concentrated in the room to the right behind the current desk, while some will be moved upstairs. Those who would prefer to read in quiet can also head upstairs, Moore said.
Two other projects are planned for the spring. For $32,000 the Bixby will see a reconfigured front entryway and vestibule to lead to that new circulation desk. Funding will be raised through tax credits.
And $110,000 of extensive repairs to the building’s parapet, chimney and roofing masonry will be funded by a combination of tax credits, a Vermont Historic Preservation Grant and a grant from Hoehl Family Foundation.
The latest work comes after many projects in the past five years that were listed in the Bixby’s town meeting reports: “We’ve added a new ADA bathroom, repaired all windows and sills, repaired foundation and redirected storm water, repaired front exterior stone staircase and columns, opened the porch and created a second egress from the main floor — all with grant money, tax credits and private funding.”
The board can also report higher library usage. According to Spencer in the past year the Bixby more than doubled its adult program offerings, drawing 1,404 attendees. Its adult book circulation has held steady over the past three years, while circulation of children’s books has increased by almost 25 percent.
And Spencer said all of the work being done — or planned in Phase 2 — keeps in mind the fact that the 107-year-old library is one of the state’s architectural treasures.
“The board is very knowledgeable about the history of the building and the integrity of the architecture,” Spencer said. “And whatever we do we still want to be preserving its historic value.”
At the same time Bixby officials said changes being made and contemplated are looking to current and future needs of the residents the library serves.
About 300 residents and patrons responded to a survey last year, and they identified areas of need to which board members are responding in Phase 1 and to which they hope to respond in a future Phase 2.
“They were excited about the idea of having a place to come and have a cup of coffee, and just to share the space, maybe use a laptop computer. So that was part of it. Another part we heard is we need more space for children’s services, that the current location is too small on the first level,” Moore said. “The third thing is we asked basically what would excite you about the Bixby. And the third thing they said is an opportunity to learn, more programming ideas.”
The creation of the community room addresses the first of those needs, while Blasius said the board went beyond the survey and researched what libraries should be providing, leading to the extra computers and copier, to available instruction in computer and software use, and an increase in digital book and magazine subscriptions.
“One thing the board also did is read a book about what is happening in libraries and what is going to be happening in libraries and what we need to prepare for in the future,” Blasius said. “So along with the programming came out some technological needs, I think, that were prevalent.”
Other needs identified in the survey will have to wait until Phase 2, for which the board has drawings, but not a price tag or a timetable.
“The board does not have a date yet for Phase 2. We know we need to work with somebody who can help advise us on a capital campaign,” Moore said. “This is a major commitment for the board to undertake, so we do expect it is going to take a little bit of time.”
THIS FLOOR PLAN shows what the first floor of the Bixby Library will look like when Phase 1 of a planned $114,000 reconfiguration is complete. Book stacks will be removed from the central lobby and from the room to the left, which will become a community room with chatter allowed. The circulation desk will move to the lobby center, and books will be moved to the room on the right and upstairs. A copier, coffee machine and more computers are also planned. A more ambitious Phase 2 is on the drawing board; it would add an exterior stairway and elevator and thus fully integrate the library’s second floor.
The biggest financial piece of Phase 2 and also its lynchpin is a two-story addition that would be built off the back of the community room and west porch. It would house a stairway and elevator to create full access to the second floor, which would then house an expanded children’s room to the right, a family room to the rear, and a meeting room with movable walls over the first-floor community room.
Those changes upstairs would also allow the Bixby to convert the current first-floor children’s room into a quiet reading room.
Creating the second-floor meeting room would require finding a new home for, or “de-accessioning,” in museum-speak, most of the Bixby’s collection of artifacts. Board members noted the board voted to do so decades ago, but never followed through.
Board members said they are working on a de-accession plan comprehensive enough to create space for the meeting room, one that could involve local historians in helping identify the most vital pieces that the Bixby should retain, which then could be used by local students.
Bixby officials hope Phase 1 will help create momentum that will build support for a Phase 2 that will finally integrate the second story into the daily life of the library.
“The purpose of getting through Phase 1 is to demonstrate the transformation of the library and what we have in mind,” Moore said. “We would like to be able to get through Phase 1 first and show what we are about. And we think that will generate more excitement and interest going into Phase 2.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]
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