This anecdote will come as a complete shock to anyone who can remember when water wasn’t permitted in the library, never mind snacks. Earlier this year, my fifth grade daughter climbed the stairs to the teen section at the Rye library in search of a book for her book club. After helping her find the book, the librarian suggested that the book club meet at the library and bring snacks. I know. Snacks? At the library?
Like me, many of you may find this surprising, but libraries nationwide are undergoing a transformation. Gone are the cubicles and dark, narrow corridors between dusty book stacks. In an effort to stay relevant during the digital era, libraries are creating more welcoming environments with open space, laptop bars, comfortable seating, meeting rooms and, yes, snacks.
An article in the New York Times published in March 2014, called “Breaking out of the library mold, in Boston and beyond,” highlights the Boston Public Library as “breaking out of its granite shell to show an airier, more welcoming side to the passing multitudes. Interior plans include new retail space, a souped-up section for teenagers, and a high-stool bar where patrons can bring their laptops and look out over Boylston Street.” A study of the Pew Internet & American Life Project indicated that 59 percent of library users want more comfortable reading areas.
The Rye Free Reading Room has already made part of this transition with respect to digital access and programming. It offers free Wi-Fi, computer sessions and is continually expanding its e-book collection. You can even download music to keep. Not only has the number of programs increased 15 percent to 1,143 over the past two years, but the programming is more varied. It includes more traditional offerings like story time for children and meet-the-author events as well as Science Fun club for elementary school children, computer classes and lectures on photography and healthcare. And if you consider that our library is closed on Sundays and most holidays, the 1,143 programs offered by our library in 2014 translates to nearly four programs each day. That’s impressive.
Our library serves all the segments of Rye’s population. It is a great place for kids to find homework help and meet to do group projects after school. It’s also a gathering site for seniors.
The next step in our library’s ongoing effort to meet the evolving requests of its patrons is to provide the physical space to support the community’s needs. This will require a substantial capital investment. Our library has plans for renovation that, once completed, will include 1,400 square feet of additional flexible seating and program space, two private study rooms available for tutoring sessions or book groups, a laptop bar and charging station, a double height atrium that restores original light and windows overlooking the Blind Brook. The project will continue the library’s evolution toward becoming a community center, not just a place to borrow books.
As with any other capital-intensive project, the question of funding arises. And as with most projects involving the library, the answer is with a capital campaign. The city contributed $1.2 million to the Rye library in 2014, roughly two-thirds of the library’s total budget. If that seems low, on a relative basis, it is. Surrounding communities typically contribute a much larger portion of their libraries’ operating budgets. Larchmont and Chappaqua, for example, contribute more than 90 percent of their libraries’ budgets. This means that our library already relies heavily on fundraising and grants to fund its operations and programming.
The next time you or your kids are searching for something to do, stop by or log into the Rye library and check out the new offerings. And when our library conducts its capital campaign, remember that only $75 per person from our annual tax dollars go to the Rye Free Reading Room.