Wilson: New building carries on old tradition

HARVARD – Library Director Mary Wilson has seen a lot of changes at the Harvard Public Library over the past 13 years.

By this time next year, she is hoping to add a change of venue to Old Bromfield on that list, a goal the library trustees have been working toward since the early 90s.

The new facility will feature a 13,000-square-foot addition to the 8,000 square feet at Old Bromfield, a sizable bump on the library’s current tally of 7,700.

With the foundation for that addition largely poured and a target opening date of Jan. 15, 2007, Wilson said it’s a matter of days until they move, albeit 363 from the interview on Tuesday.

With that being the case, Wilson admitted she’s grown fond of the building that’s been the media center’s home on the common since 1886, but added that the new library would be better equipped to serve Harvard’s needs.

“This building has served the town well for 120 years,” she said. “This new facility is going to serve Harvard well for the next 100 years.”

Outlining what that entails, Wilson said a modern library has its traditional role as a repository for books and information, though the scope of that charge has grown with the advent of computers and a larger focus on multi-media materials.

It is also a busy meeting place and a quiet recreation spot for those looking to relax.

Tying it all together, Wilson described a juggling act the facility currently performs that the new one will improve on.

For example, she listed a larger children’s room, a designated young adults area and more space for computers, reading, and quiet study as much-needed improvements.

There will also be a 40-space parking lot – eight times larger than the current location – and a large meeting room on the third floor of Old Bromfield, that will replace the Hapgood meeting room.

Overall, it is a topic that transitions naturally to a major driver behind the relocation: a lack of space or expansion prospects at the library’s current home. It is a circumstance Wilson called maximized.

Patrons only plan short visits to the library due to a lack of available space to read and relax, said Wilson.

It affects the collection as well she said. With the shelves full, and much the library’s transactions based on newly-acquired materials, that can lead to hard choices about what stays in the collection.

“What has happened in recent years is you make a trade off,” she said. “If you buy one, you may have to discard one.”

The library is home to 51,274 items, which includes DVDs, CDs, and books. Wilson said the new library would have room for 75,000 items, which should allow the growth of the collection to resume.

Turning to the numbers within her current annual report, Wilson showed that patron visits in fiscal year 2005 held steady from last year with 81,163. They also illustrated that it was once again a record-setting year for circulation, with 81,020 items borrowed, a 2.8 percent increase over FY04.

The state Board of Library Commissioners has advised her that circulation will likely double when the new facility opens, said Wilson. One-and-a-half full-time employees will need to be added to the library staff to handle the expanded the facility, which means the changes to the library will not just be in location.

With town finances tight in recent years, it was a concern that was brought up when the project was approved at town meeting in early 2004, though the measure still passed easily.

At this point, Wilson said those factors are not likely to be played out in the budget until FY08, since the library would likely open in late spring at the earliest, and would only impact a few weeks of the FY07 budget.

Another financial item she felt was worth repeating was that the library trustees have committed to covering any shortfall in the construction budget through the Library Trust or fund-raising.

While the $7 million investment in the project has been questioned as an odd investment for a town facing some serious hurdles in its yearly operating budget, Wilson said the terms of the agreement make the facility a bargain for the town, which has its capital expense capped at $2.6 million.

To supplement that, there’s a state grant for $2.49 million, with the remaining $1.52 covered by the Library Trust and fund-raising, which led Wilson to re-iterate that it is a pretty good bargain for the town.

“For 33 cents on the dollar, the town is going to get a restored Old Bromfield, a new library, a community center and it will preserve the historic center of the town overlooking the pond for years to come,” said Wilson.

“What it ultimately does is create this educational and recreational facility in that is, in my opinion, the heart of Harvard,” she said.