Statement of Support: Amherst Regional Public School Librarians

To Whom It May Concern:

As the five school librarians for the Amherst Public Schools and Amherst Regional Public Schools, we are writing in support of the proposed renovation and expansion of the Jones Library. We know that libraries have a significant and measurable impact on student learning and achievement. Since the public libraries offer our students critical print, digital, and community resources after school, on weekends, during school breaks, and over the summer, the Jones Library supports our own students’ learning and achievement. We believe that the proposed renovation and expansion will have an impact on our students and their families in the following ways:

  • The proposed expansion of the Children’s Room will allow the entire collection to be easily accessed in one space and will provide adequate room for family programming such as story times. Currently, the space cannot support the increasingly high demand for circulation and programming and the staff cannot properly supervise children using computers.
  • The proposed expansion creates a safe, inviting, and supportive environment for teens to work individually or collaboratively on academic or extracurricular projects of interest.  The current “teen corner” in the basement of the library is small, unappealing, and not visible for supervision.  At this time there are no computers dedicated for young adult access and demand exceeds the need.
  • Many of our children come from families that speak English as a second language. The proposed expansion and renovation will create a space to serve those families with an ESL program that supports our work in the schools.  The current space in the basement is cramped, not easily accessed, and cannot meet the demand for English language learner services.
  • Many of our families do not have access to computers and/or the internet at home. The proposed expansion of computer workstations will help to address this gap in our families’’ digital access.
  • The current layout of the Jones Library is confusing and difficult to navigate, with two elevators and staircases that individually do not access every floor.  People with disabilities, parents using the library with young children, and new patrons are especially challenged in navigating the library’s resources efficiently.  The renovation will allow all users to feel welcome and access all areas of the collection more easily.

For these reasons, we support the renovation and expansion of the Jones Library.

Susan McQuaid, Crocker Farm librarian

Leslie Lomassan, Amherst Regional High School librarian

Fran Ludington, Fort River librarian

Peter Riedel, Amherst Regional Middle School librarian

Susan Wells, Wildwood librarian

Letter to the Editor: Cammie McGovern

One aspect to the library renovation debate that local patrons might not realize is just how out of step our beloved Jones is with other libraries around the state. As a children’s and teen author who regularly visits them, I’ve seen where most similarly-sized town libraries are headed: buildings with large, flexible-use spaces and cordoned-off separate rooms for every library’s most important future users: children and teens. You don’t even need to travel to Brookline, Cambridge to see how well these libraries have designed spaces which children and at-risk teens can utilize in life-changing ways. You need only drive to Sunderland to see a Teen Board of twenty kids, sharing a pizza in their teen room, debating book club picks, author visits, and movie nights. Drive down to the beautiful, new South Hadley Library and you’ll witness something that moves me even more: a dozen or so adults with disabilities reading magazines, using computers, there every afternoon brought by their day programs with new mandates to provide “community based time.” You’ll be struck by both sights because neither is one that you’ll see at the Jones which has no designated teen space and so many accessibility issues.

The proposed changes aren’t luxuries we’d appreciate but can ill-afford. They’re necessities to keep up with a changing population. Not applying for a state matching grant, but using close to the same amount of money to “make fixes and repair the current building,” will only leave Jones on the map of quaint, outdated institutions. Those who are able to travel to libraries just north and south will do so. Those who can’t will be ill-served by a building they can’t access or feel at home in.

Cammie McGovern

Statement of Support: Amherst’s Institutional Librarians

We are pleased to voice our enthusiastic support for the Jones Library’s renovation/expansion project.

The Jones Library is a vital complement to our institutions, not a redundant competitor.  As professional librarians, we are especially aware of the critical importance of libraries that serve all of the residents of a town – e.g., children, teens, those without computers, learners of English, those interested in local history, and the casual as well as the serious reader.

The Jones Library is a fundamental piece of the infrastructure that maintains the robust intellectual, cultural, and civic life for which this Town is known.  It should be a pre-eminent example of its kind.  But the Jones is currently at capacity, and unable to fulfill its mission to serve everyone.  The vigorous pursuit of the Jones’ programs should be of high importance to us, and it needs a facility that will allow it to achieve that standard.

Bryn Geffert
Librarian of the College
Frost Library
Amherst College

Jennifer Gunter King
Harold F. Johnson Library
Hampshire College

Simon Neame
Dean of Libraries
University of Massachusetts – Amherst

Project essential investment in Jones Library

By Kent Faerber

Sarah McKee’s guest column (“Jones Library project too large and costly,” Feb. 17) does not represent the views of a large and growing group (Jones Library For Everyone) who believe that the renovation and expansion of the Jones Library is an essential investment in one of the institutions that make Amherst a unique place to live.

Amherst’s library should be special, but its founders had an even more radical vision — the library could help sustain that special character of the town by ensuring that everyone is attracted to it. A theater, exhibition spaces and an architectural style adopted not for aesthetic reasons but for its warm welcome to the town’s residents played a central role in sustaining the town’s cultural and civic life.

The proposal will provide a facility that, once again, can play that role for today’s Amherst. Far from “destroying” the library, the proposal has been endorsed by the Friends of the Jones Libraries, the Amherst Historical Society and Museum, The Literacy Project, the Burnett Gallery Committee, and many others who are signifying their support on the website of this group.

The proposal deserves careful study. It opens most of the 1928 building to the public again, and it provides the same kind of quiet, adult reading spaces featured in the original, but not now available.

Because of its fixed and confusing labyrinth of small rooms and its unworkable atrium, however, the professionals have made a convincing case that the 1993 addition can be more economically replaced by one that is both adaptable to future needs and welcoming with its light-filled, open interior.

Amherst’s residents deserve accurate reporting of the estimate of the project’s cost. The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) grant application includes a professional estimate of $35.6 million. If awarded, the grant will supply $13.7 million, and $6 million is proposed from other funding sources, leaving $16 million to be funded by tax-supported bonding.

Adding the interest charges on that bonding serves only to frighten; when we buy homes we do not add mortgage interest to the price to evaluate our purchase. A more detailed analysis of the complex, but relatively modest annual impact on our taxes, is available online at

There will be plenty of opportunity to examine the project in great detail, but Amherst Town Meeting in the spring should take the risk-free next step in that process by approving the grant application to the MBLC.

And, as residents become convinced of the importance of this project to Amherst’s unique identity, they should make their views known.

Kent W. Faerber, a former member of the Amherst Historical Commission and the library’s board of trustees, is a member of the feasibility committee (and its design subcommittee) overseeing the design of the proposal, and one of the organizers of Jones Library For Everyone.

This letter originally appeared in The Amherst Bulletin.

New group touts Jones Library expansion, renovation project in Amherst

By Scott Merzbach

A free library at the center of the community’s cultural and civic life was a vital consideration for Samuel Minot Jones in being the benefactor and namesake of the Jones Library.

From a gallery where the public could view art exhibits to a projection room for screening films — not to mention wood paneling, fireplaces and staircases similar to a home — the library immediately became an important institution in a town with fewer than 6,000 residents when it opened in 1928.

But nearly 90 years later, as Amherst’s population nears 40,000, the current library, expanded once, is no longer able to meet its original objective, say supporters of a $36 million proposed expansion and renovation.

“That is something the town has lost because of the facility it has now,” says Kent Faerber, a former trustee who previously served on the town’s Historical Commission.

Faerber is leading a new initiative called Jones Library for Everyone that will support the elected trustees who oversee the library and Library Director Sharon Sharry in advocating for a project that they believe will enable the library to meet many needs. Among those are having dedicated space for teenage patrons, making it easier for people in wheelchairs to navigate through the building and providing more chairs so people can pick books off shelves and browse through them.

Under current plans, the project would add 17,000 square feet to the current 48,000-square-foot building by demolishing the 1993 addition and extending an addition toward the CVS Pharmacy parking lot at the rear.

Faerber said the project will maintain the ideals of the library being for residents of all socioeconomic backgrounds, and restore the shared commitment to the mind and intellect.

“The Amherst library needs to be special,” Faerber said. “We serve everybody on a particular mission.”

This new organization’s formation comes in advance of annual Town Meeting next month, which will be asked to accept a preliminary design for the project. The project would then move forward if a construction grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners is awarded in July. If that happens, Town Meeting would then be asked to approve borrowing for the town’s share of the project, estimated at around $16 million.

Save Our Library

Jones Library for Life also serves to counter Save Our Library, a group created last year to raise concerns about the project, including demolishing the entirety of the 1993 addition, removing and replacing the Woodbury Room that was renovated using money from benefactors, and affecting the Kinsey Memorial Garden.

Save Our Library includes three former presidents of the trustees, including Sarah McKee, who said in an email that space needs were never evaluated and that a less expensive alternative, using the current footprint, should have been considered.

“(There has been) no public procedure for getting input from the town in general, and all areas of town, as to what Amherst residents want and need from our public libraries, and what sort of project design we prefer,” McKee wrote.

Faerber said his group will speak to Town Meeting members and discuss how the project fits with the vision of Samuel Minot Jones.

“Our first task is to educate residents of Amherst about the unique function of the library,” Faerber said.

Faerber said a signature drive being launched will show that there is support from all segments of the community, with hopes to get as many people to sign by the end of April, when Town Meeting begins.

There will also be various public presentations, such as to the Rotary Club of Amherst, Applewood Retirement Community and business leaders.

Faerber is joined by current trustees Alex Lefebvre and Lee Edwards, with honorary members including famed writers Julius Lester, Polly Longsworth and Norton Juster.

Library as lifeline

With 25 percent of Amherst students coming from families whose first language isn’t primarily English, and even more from low- and moderate-income backgrounds, Faerber said there is an understanding the library’s resources are essential for many in the community.

“If you don’t have a computer, the library is your lifeline,” Faerber said.

This also includes the English as a Second Language program, which in the new building will have double the space, with more one-one-one and group instruction rooms.

Faerber said the project will allow technical services to move from the second floor of the 1928 portion of the building and make this area a reading room and small collaborative work rooms.

“These rooms would basically be restored,” Faerber said.

On the ground level, joining the ESL program would be special collections, with its materials consolidated from storage space spread throughout the building.

Larger children’s room and dedicated teen space will be created, as well.

Though there have been concerns about the interior and exterior finishes not matching the historic appearance of the building, Faerber said those decisions haven’t yet been made.

And concerns about the loss of Kinsey Memorial Garden are overstated, with Faerber noting this green space will continue to exist.

“It will be smaller, but there will be a garden,” Faerber said.

This article orginally appears in The Daily Hampshire Gazette

Why Amherst needs renovated library

By Austin Sarat

From its construction in 1928, the Jones Library was much more than a place to borrow books.

With its 260-seat theater, exhibition spaces, and “town’s living room” architecture, it was intended to entice all of Amherst’s residents to the library to sustain the unique characteristics of the town.

However, in late 2013, the interior’s defects, including space limitations, safety issues, inaccessibility to segments of the community, and what one state library official called its “dysfunctional” work flow, led the library’s board of trustees to consider a major building renovation.

After an almost three-year process, involving 23 dedicated public meetings, more than 20 community volunteers and professionals, the entire library staff, and one of the finest library architecture firms in the state, the board has developed a building program designed to serve the library for the next 20 to 40 years.

Central in this effort was the desire for the Jones to maintain its historic role at the center of the shared and joyful commitment to learning, culture, books, and the life of the mind that make Amherst distinctive.

The building program meets the needs of all those who now use and those who will, in the future, use the library. It specifically addresses constituencies not well served by the present facility:

The mobility-impaired who seldom use the library because they find the narrow stack aisles, rabbit-warren layout of the building, and minimally accessible parking to be daunting.

Teens whose introduction to the library will prepare them to serve as the future stewards of Amherst’s essential character, but who have no space in the current facility.

Children and families whose library activities today compete with other functions in a beloved but inadequate space.

The families of the 25 percent of the children in Amherst’s schools whose first language is not English, who will gain broader access to the library’s award-winning ESL program without having to be tutored in the stacks or in tutor’s homes (its space has doubled).

Those who do not have access to high-speed internet or who do not have their own computers and now find the library’s terminals too often fully occupied.

Residents hungry for Amherst history who will have ready access to the holdings of the Jones’ special collections/archives, and scholars who will know that its holdings will be kept in climate-controlled conditions.

The proposal is based on the list of services we believe are needed, and the space they require — the “program.” The trustees explored multiple options with the library and architectural professionals who ultimately determined that neither the present 47,000-square-foot building nor expansion of the library within the existing footprint would fulfill Amherst’s needs.

The trustees will ensure that any renovation and expansion should maintain as much of the library’s “home-like” atmosphere as possible. Thus, the preliminary designs for the renovation of the building maintain the exterior of the 1928 building; return five of the wood-paneled rooms with fireplaces to their original purpose as reading rooms and public spaces; convert several of the staff areas to public areas; make the barrel vault ceiling of the original theater space visible again; and keep the library’s front staircase. As we move forward, we will invite additional public participation in filling in the design details.

Spring Town Meeting will be asked to authorize the application for a library construction grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners that, if awarded, would provide additional funds for the design development and construction of the building. Such an award would represent almost 40 percent of the cost of the project.

A “yes” vote by Town Meeting would not commit town funds to the project, and any award of state funds subsequently could be declined.

The trustees have deferred much-needed maintenance to the library since 2014 in order to capitalize on the use of state funds to offset costs to the town of Amherst and its residents. Even with no expansion, attending to those needs would trigger code compliance work that would likely bring the total costs to nearly as much as the town’s share of the proposed project.

We have an important opportunity to improve our library and to preserve the founders’ vision of the Jones Library. We ask Town Meeting to allow us to take the next step in what has been a careful and inclusive planning process, and we urge all who love our library to make their voices heard in support of this project.

Austin Sarat, the associate dean of the faculty at Amherst College, is president of the Jones Library board of trustees. This column was signed by the five other trustees, Lee Edwards, Tamson Ely, Chris Hoffmann, Alex Lefebvre and Robert Pam.

Originally published in the Amherst Bulletin