Thoughts About Our Town Library


To the Editor, Our Manchester Public Library faces two big predicaments - but we have an opportunity to do something about it.

The root cause of both predicaments is the library building itself.  It is both too small and too poorly configured to meet today's needs.

Meanwhile, the idea of a "public library" has evolved over the last 60 years to include two kinds of educational services for the community:

  • "Traditional" individual services: spaces to read books and other materials, spaces (and assistance) to browse and find books and other materials, resources for doing research, and space for tutoring (by staff or other community teachers).
  • Group educational programming events: Events for children, teenagers, and adults. Events that are primarily for watching and listening (lectures, presentations, movies, concerts); primarily for conversing (book clubs, discussions); and hands-on events (craft workshops, writing workshops, nature activities, cooking experiences, games, etc.).

Predicament # 1:   Our current building makes it very difficult to accommodate both group programming events AND the Library's traditional services.

  • The library consists of four main "areas" (not "rooms" with doors) - and sound travels easily from one area to the next.
  • Group activities are distracting to those in the library for traditional services especially if they are happening in the same room. Configuration promotes the conflict in a variety of ways (computer workstations for individual use in the same area used for 20-person events; the passageway to the stacks and the bathroom (Hearthside room) is sometimes also used for a 15- to 20-person event.
  • Occasionally two group events/meetings take place in the building at the same time. This completely disrupts the traditional uses of the library while creating a din of noise impacting both events.
  • SOLUTION: The library needs at least two dedicated meeting/function rooms with doors, separate from other library activities and services.

Predicament # 2:  Our current building does not have enough space to grow our collections.

  • The size of our book collection has declined from a high of 46,000 in 1987 to 37,000 in 2023.
  • The types of collections that circulate have increased: now there are DVDs and Audio Books, for example.
  • Many popular "newly" purchased books are discarded 3-5 years later. Realistically, all libraries weed out older items; yet our building now makes this process more ruthless than in the past.
  • SOLUTION: The library needs more space (1) to display collections, and (2) to store the seldom used collections (often called, "the stacks"), possibly with "compressed mobile shelving."

The Overall Ideal Solution Options: (1) we build a new library elsewhere in town; OR (2) we dramatically expand our building while reconfiguring our existing space, all while balancing the historic features of the building.  It is a multi-million-dollar solution no matter how you look at it.

Therefore, We Need Major Donors!  

  • Ron Borel, who had moved out of Manchester, gave a large gift through his estate in 2022- but the project will cost a lot more.
  • Jefferson Coolidge, a town resident (!), paid for the architect and the entire building that he gave to the Town in 1887.
  • We need more people like Mr. Coolidge and Mr. Borel to give land or cash to help solve the predicaments of the library. Do you know someone who will help the community in this way?

Meanwhile, two things have happened to finally bring the matter of an overall solution within grasp:

  1. Ron Borel's major gift of $500K
  2. The Massachusetts State Board of Library Commissioners (BLC) 2024 construction grants.
    • It has been multiple years since such grants have been made available and it won't happen again for another chunk of time.
    • These are big amounts of money: Example: 60% of up to $5 million of our eligible construction.

Our Opportunity for Action as a Town is NOW, this Spring.  The Manchester Library Board of Trustees has told the BLC that it intends to apply for a 2024 Grant for future construction.  It has a consultant helping to prepare the complex application.  We are one of a very few libraries in the entire state with no meeting rooms.  We have a very good case to present.

But a BLC requirement for an acceptable application is proof of citizen support for an expansion project. That requirement of proof must be a town vote to fund the planning for the project.

I strongly urge my fellow citizens to support passage of the Library's request for $150,000 to plan the project and to meet the requirement of the grant proposal, at our April 24 Town Meeting.

I have also made a video to provide more clarity:


Dick Goutal, Manchester