Letter: Town Council, Read The Signs And Correct Our Course

Photo: https://www.joneslibrary.org/

The following letter was sent to the Amherst Town Council On September 1, 2022

Public Libraries Are Shedding Books And Losing Visitors – So Why Do We Make Them Bigger? is a piece published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Amherst Bulletin and Amherst Indy that is based on research I conducted using data compiled by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC).  It raises serious questions about the need and affordability of the Jones Library Renovation-Expansion Project, particularly regarding the 15,000 square foot addition.  This expansion will enlarge the 22nd largest public library in Massachusetts belonging to the town with the state’s 39th largest population, creating the 9th largest public library in the Commonwealth.

At the same time, annual visits to the Jones Library declined by 43% between 2006 and the start of the pandemic.  Regrettably, this information was not made available to the Town Council before you voted to appropriate $35,279,700 for the project.

Further research has turned up a 2020 study conducted jointly by the MBLC and Sasaki Associates titled Library Space: A planning Resource For Librarians.  The study found that the median size of Massachusetts libraries serving a population of 40,000 people is 38,000 gross square feet.  The Jones Library is presently 48,000 square feet in size.  After expansion, the Jones Library will be 61,296 square feet, a figure that is off the chart on the MBLC/Sasaki graph of Population & Building Size.

Source: https://mblc.state.ma.us/

Please consider the systemic excesses inherent in the Jones Library Renovation-Expansion Project.  Its climbing cost threatens the Library endowment, the Town’s capital and operational budgets, the viability of the Elementary School Replacement Project and two other arguably higher priority building projects.  It will also lead to the need for Amherst residents to support a larger debt exclusion tax override for the school project.

The Jones Library building undoubtedly has deficiencies that need to be addressed – the result of years of deferred maintenance.  Please lead Amherst to the only reasonable path forward.  Call a halt to the unnecessarily large and unaffordable Library Renovation-Expansion.  Then regroup, seek revenue sources for the most urgently needed library repairs, and focus on the problem of funding the school, fire station and DPW projects.

Jeff Lee

Jeff Lee is a resident of Amherst and a frequent contributor to
The Amherst Indy

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4 thoughts on “Letter: Town Council, Read The Signs And Correct Our Course

  1. Jeff’s letter and notes by other commenters miss the principle that the library in Amherst and in many other places in the US have a greatly expanded role in the community. My own perspective was radically changed by reading “The Library” by Susan Orleans a few years ago. It’s about much more than cardholders and physical books. I highly recommend it.

  2. I also love “The Library”, but the Jones can have that expanded role with an updated and remodeled space, without a large expansion. Look at the Forbes Library, beautifully redone in the existing space. We certainly don’t need to put other needed projects and the operating budget of the Jones itself at risk for this project that is revealing itself to be profoundly unaffordable.

  3. I love the Jones Library, too, John, and I know that its popular programming is part of its charm. I recognize the importance of Special Collections, and am a longtime admirer of Lynne Weintraub’s acclaimed ESL Center. But with construction costs approaching $1000 per sq. ft., I will not be convinced that a 15,000 sq. ft. addition is justified, especially given today’s economic climate and Amherst’s more pressing needs.

    I have read “The Library Book” by Susan Orlean and I agree with you that it’s a good book. But it doesn’t change the cold facts on the ground in Amherst.

  4. In April 2016, the Library Trustees asked their architects how much space the Jones Library had for the Library’s Program, using only its existing footprint and going only 3 stories high, if all spaces were to be used most efficiently. The answer: 51,000 square feet. This information was on the Library website for years. I don’t seem to find it now.

    Nonetheless, the Trustees have never sought the views of a professional library space planner (yes, that’s a thing) on how best to use the space they have. Isn’t it high time?

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