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the same amount of money to “make fixes and repair the current building,” will only leave Jones on the map of quaint, outdated institutions.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.