Letter to the editor: Many benefit from the Ilsley

In 1989, the urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg published his book “The Great Good Place,” which explores the concept of “third spaces” in our society. According to Oldenburg, and other sociologists, third spaces are those beyond our homes or workplaces that serve as community anchors, places that foster civic engagement and human connections. A “home away from home.” Next week, Middlebury residents have the opportunity to vote in favor of uplifting one of our county’s greatest third spaces, a true anchor for many of us. 

The bond vote for the Ilsley Public Library’s proposed improvements and redesign is one of the most important we can imagine, and it’s a shame that Middlebury must shoulder this responsibility alone when so many of us from other towns are loyal patrons and beneficiaries of the Ilsley (we would encourage non-Middlebury folks to donate privately to the Ilsley’s fundraising efforts, if you are able). We hope our neighbors will support this wise investment as research has found that for every $1 invested in public libraries, communities realize $5 in value. But it is harder to quantify the human impact of a place like the Ilsley.

When we moved to Addison County in the middle of a frigid winter with our young daughter, the Ilsley’s children’s library became an immediate haven for us. Much of this is thanks to the warm and open librarians who immediately welcomed us and have come to feel like family, as well as for the inventive ways those librarians engage all children through stories, games and crafts. Over the years we have found that every time we go to the Ilsley, we are sure to run into a friend, whether they are behind the circulation desks, browsing the shelves, reading newspapers, meeting in community spaces, or chasing children through the famous Noon Years Eve party. It is hard to imagine a better definition of a “Great, Good Place” in Addison County than the Ilsley Public Library.

We are writing today with optimism and gratitude as Middlebury voters act to invest in the future of the Ilsley. Many of the proposed improvements are essential to the basic functioning of the building, including replacing the troubled broiler system and ensuring reliable access for people with mobility challenges. And, the design thoughtfully builds on the Ilsley’s strengths by creating expanded and beautiful spaces for children, teenagers, community organizations, and library patrons of all ages. 

This is a chance to provide the Ilsley with a building that reflects what the Ilsley has given back to Middlebury and Addison County for generations — a library building that will enrich and benefit all of us for years to come. We hope voters will agree next week.

Conor Stinson and Ellen Whelan-Wuest


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