Historic Stockbridge Library set for celebratory reopening

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Photo Gallery | The Stockbridge Library, Museum and Archives

STOCKBRIDGE — Amid a whirlwind of finishing touches and unpacking of boxed book collections, Director Katie O'Neil conducted a grand tour of the historic Stockbridge Library on Tuesday, four days before its celebratory reopening to the public.

While retaining its historic character and charm, the 1864 library, last renovated in 1937, now welcomes visitors to its inviting Fitzpatrick Atrium.

Re-imagined for modern times, it sports updated technology, contemporary lighting and appointments for its 55,000-item collection, expanded public spaces, an elevator connecting all three floors, a new, enhanced and landscaped back entrance and numerous other updates. It has been brought up to code and now offers universal accessibility.

The goal of the $4 million, 18-month project was to bring the venerable building owned by the private Stockbridge Library Association into the 21st Century, O'Neil said. Massachusetts Cultural Council grants and state historic tax credits have totaled $1.1 million, the town has already kicked in $300,000, and the rest was raised privately.

All but $400,000 remains to be raised for the project completed by Allegrone Construction, O'Neil said, a gap that will be narrowed considerably if annual town meeting voters approve $100,000 in town funding for elevator, code and fire-protection system costs, and $50,000 from the Community Preservation Act on May 16.

About 45 percent of the library's $333,000 annual operating budget is funded by town taxpayers.

The grand reopening events to welcome back the public will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

"We've missed being here as much as they've missed us being here, so we're excited to have everybody back to take advantage of this wonderful space," O'Neil said. "We did this for them, it's not for us, it's for the community."

"I was always attracted to public libraries for their sense of community, a gathering place especially in a small town," she said. The project also emphasizes a higher profile and more space for the library's Procter Museum and Archives, which will reopen in June.

"It will continue to be a place where we preserve the town's history and collect items from all the amazing people that have been part of our history and will be part of her future," O'Neil said.

Even in the Internet age, the library in a town like Stockbridge offers a "sense of connection" for townspeople and visitors, she said.

"The Internet's a tool, and it's not giving you that human connection," she said. "Here you come in, you get a smile from someone at the desk and they ask you about your dog, your new granddaughter or whatever, and that's what this place is about to me."

However, with gold-standard Internet connections still unavailable to many in the area, the library now offers eight public computers, and one more in the museum, with high-speed broadband and Wi-Fi throughout, including the new outdoor patio. The library is connected to the fast-lane Massachusetts Broadband Initiative as a "community anchor institution."

"Print is not dead, we're still actively buying new books," O'Neil said. Although the collection is routinely culled to make room for new arrivals, the library's membership in the C/W MARS regional library interconnection system affords "a lot of buying power," including e-book access.

After reconfiguration of the 14,000-square-foot interior, the library gains 40 percent of usable space with the creation of a multi-purpose room for community events and new uses for what had been the attic. Extra working space has been created for the two full-timers, O'Neil and museum Curator Barbara Allen, and five part-timers.

Touring the facility as volunteers, including library board President Stewart Edelstein, moved newly arrived furniture and unpacked boxes that had been in storage, O'Neil touched on some highlights:

• The Jackson Wing, the original library building, houses adult fiction and the children's section with new lighting, paint and adjustable shelving, all code-compliant.

• The original staircase to the mezzanine has new code-compliant handrails for the original bannisters.

• The mezzanine, with new shelving, accommodates oversize art books and connects to the newly built Judy Spencer Reading Lounge containing the juvenile and young adult non-fiction collection, a space for teens, and a new study nook with an oversize picture window fronting on Main Street.

• A new Ruth Krauss activity room will host programs organized by youth librarian Vicky Cooper, described by O'Neil as "a bit of a celebrity on the preschool circuit."

• The renovated main-floor Stockbridge Room, a multipurpose space for programs and meetings with new Blu-ray video and audio equipment, is open to local nonprofit community groups, book clubs, and to outside organizations for a small fee. A new investment club, a writer-in-residence program and a cookbook-based gathering are among planned offerings.

• An archway from the original 1864 building with a stone plaque commemorating the 1862 founding of the Library Association is relocated to a prominent, highly visible location.

• A new gallery with permanent displays is added to the bottom-floor Museum and Archives, with a higher profile, more space, and closer integration with the library.

• The Bement Room, added during the 1937 building overhaul, remains home to the bulk of the library collection, but with enhanced lighting.

The library will be open 43 hours a week, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. After the museum reopens next month on a similar schedule, it will also keep the new extended hours on Tuesdays.

Over the past four years, the library has seen nearly a 50 percent increase in the number of volunteers, with the average amount of time worked up from 12 to 25 hours.

"We are thrilled to welcome all of our friends and supporters to the rejuvenated library and to once again be back on Main Street, serving the community of Stockbridge and preserving its history," said O'Neil.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

By the numbers ...

Renovation: 2,437 square feet added to current 10,310-square-foot structure

Operating budget: (FY2016): $332,950

Collection: Over 55,000 items, including books, DVDs, photographs, town records and historical artifacts

Library patronage: 27,084 (FY 2014)

Museum & Archives patronage: 3,669 from 35 states and 15 countries

Membership: 1,361 (2015); 1,035 (2011)

Programs: Expanded by 25 percent since 2011, attendance up 72 percent

Source: Stockbridge Library Association

Grand reopening ...

Among the events planned for this Saturday at the library, 46 Main St.:

10 a.m.: Ribbon-cutting and Brass Fanfare, speeches by U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, Library Director Katherine O'Neil, Museum & Archives Curator Barbara Allen, and others. (Main Street Entrance)

10:15-11:15 a.m.: Berkshire Brass Quintet with Paul Sundberg and Jeff Stevens. (Bement Room)

11-11:30 a.m.: Story Time with Ms. Vicky. (Jackson Wing)

11:30-12:30 a.m.: Jennie Jadow and Josh McCabe of Shakespeare & Company, leading participatory theater games for all ages. (Bement Room)

1-2 p.m.: Quintessential, male a cappella vocal group. (Bement Room)

2:15-2:45 p.m.: Berkshire Ukulele Band led by Rob Sanzone. (Bement Room)

All day: Children's activities, including face-painting and a "Make Your Own Book" craft; scavenger hunt for all ages; photography exhibit by Stockbridge resident Clemens Kalischer, who worked with Norman Rockwell.

Information: www.stockbridgelibrary.com, on Facebook (Stockbridge-Library-Association), or 413-298-5501.


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