HANSON — Library Director Karen Stolfer and consultant Ruth Kowal, who has more than 40 years’ experience in both small and large public libraries, presented an informational program on the library’s future at the beginning of the Monday, May 6 Town Meeting. Kowal has also served as the director of administration and finance at the Boston Public Library and was director of the Plymouth Public Library for seven years.
Speaking on behalf of the Library Trustees, Kowal spoke of the library’s future planning effort over the past year. The strategic plan is available for review on the library’s website and paper copies are available.
A public presentation on the library building program will take place at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, May 16 in the Hanson Public Library.
“I grew up when libraries had books, maybe some LPs — I guess they’re called vinyl recordings now — everyone was expected to be very quiet, if you spoke at all,” Kowal said. “You took what you wanted to use home, unless it was a reference book that you were going to use and … it had to be used in the library. Things are very different in libraries now.” Kowal noted that libraries, and how they are now used, reflect the “big changes in our culture and society,” and what the public expects.
“You are fortunate to have a Board of Trustees for the Hanson Public Library, and a library director, who are looking forward and are really looking out for the interests of the citizens of this town and want to ensure that you have excellent library service here,” she said.
Kowal outlined the public survey, focus groups, staff interviews, public “flip chart” sessions and conversations with key stakeholders that have taken place since the trustees contracted with her in January 2018. The state hasbeen assisting with financing that phase of the project. The public was asked how current services could be improved, what additions or changes the public would like to see and how patrons envision the li- brary in five to 10 years.
People still want to be able to borrow books, DVDs and CDs, either by traditional means or digitally, Kowal said. But the number one item on the survey was a request for more programs and classes for all ages. Friendly and knowledgeable staff able to assist with research, technology use or to just recommend a “good read,” was also mentioned, as well as access to computers, printers, internet access and other technology. Delivery of library materials to homebound residents was also a high priority, as well as expanded partnerships with community organizations and schools were also mentioned as well as expanded hours in a comfortable and welcoming building.
A strategic plan and building program is being developed based on areas in which the public saw a need for improvement. The second phase of the project has focused on the building program.
During the flexible hours they seek, the public wants to be able to be comfortable in spaces and furnishings that can be moved around. Expanded program areas including large and smaller meeting rooms were requested as well as a “contemporary and adaptable power and infrastructure system,” that is more outlets for devices patrons may bring in. ADA compliance and accessibility in an environmen- tally efficient building with strong WiFi capacity along with public access to meeting rooms when the library is closed were also requested.
“The Hanson Public Library is a very attractive building, architecturally, it’s in a great location, but it’s too small to do what people want it to do,” Kowal said. Options for the future include an extensive renovation and expansion to double the space from 8,195 square feet to just under 16,000 or to build a new library in a new location — with the Maquan School and former Plymouth County Hospital sites mentioned. The Senior Center, facing similar space concerns, is also in the midst of a planning process.
Kowal said next steps for the library project would include work with town and state officials on a possible timeline, hiring and architectural firm funded by the Mass.
Board of Library Commissioners and determining a desirable site for a future building as well as a funding plan.
When a grant was applied for to construct the current building, it was denied, so no state grant money was used to construct this building because libraries are required to look out at least 20 years for construction projects.
“The Review Committee felt that the needs assessment was very well done,” read a comment from the committee that reviewed Hanson’s construction grant application at that time. “However, it felt that that library ought to plan and design a new building for the population that is being projected. This library is not planned for 20 years.”
“The Children’s area is not large enough,” said another.
Town Administrator Michael McCue, speaking about a special Town Meeting article funding potential demolition of the Maquan School “when it may make sense.”
A previous consideration for razing only a portion of the building, leaving the gym and cafeterias intact for community use fell victim to consideration of liability and ADA access compliance, said Selectmen Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett, who chairs the Maquan Reuse Committee.
McCue assured voters, while questioning the future of the building during discussion of yet another special Town Meeting article — on repair- ing the senior center floor – that there are no plans to tear the library/senior center building down.