The Middle Haddam Public Library is at an exciting but challenging moment in its long history.
The volunteer board of directors of the Middle Haddam Public Library has proposed plans to make modest changes to the 1960s wing of the building in an effort to improve the library’s future usefulness, as well as changes to the grounds to make the building accessible to people with physical challenges or who have difficulty with stairs.
While it is especially valued for its charm as a historical building, the Library’s nonprofit status, determined by the IRS, is as a 501c3 public library. Its primary mission is to serve the public. In order to fulfill this mission, it must be accessible to the public. In addition to the requirement for the library to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is simply the right thing to do to make the library a place that everyone can visit.
A gift from the estate of a long-time Middle Haddam resident provides funds to build an “annex,” including “a glass-enclosed porch area overlooking the wildlife area surrounding the library.” In fulfilling the terms of the bequest, we are able to improve the library’s ability to meaningfully serve the public going forward through a small annex built on to the back of the 1960s addition. A handicap accessible entrance and restroom off the west side of the 1960s wing are also included.
The annex was designed to provide ample light and views of the library’s natural surroundings to comply with the donor’s intent, while maintaining architectural compatibility with the rest of the building. It will enable the library to more comfortably host small community groups, and thus be more useful and relevant to residents of Middle Haddam and the local region.
The current plans, which have been available at the library since January 11, include a gently inclining and visually appealing walkway, allowing full accessibility via the 1960s addition to the building without requiring the handrails and level platforms of a handicap accessible ramp. The plans also add a restroom to the first floor of the same wing to be accessible to all visitors. The plans have been approved by the State Historic Preservation Office, as well as by the Middle Haddam Historic District Commission.
The board held two public meetings to explain the proposed plans and our reasons for them. The first, held on Sunday, January 11 was attended by fewer than a dozen people; no one at all attended the second meeting on January 25. In addition, the Rivereast published a letter from the board on January 23, 2015, summarizing the reasons for the proposed changes. That letter is reproduced and available at the library.
Nonetheless, a petition objecting to an expansion to the library building or any change to the property has been circulating. Some have suggested that much of the bequest should be used to maintain the existing building rather than adding anything to it. Doing so would neither serve the public interest in upgrading the library’s facilities nor fairly honor the terms of the bequest. Some have suggested that lower circulation and visitor numbers mean the library is not valued as a community resource as it once was. And some simply do not want change of any sort.
Yes, the library is seeing a decline in circulation and visitors. In addition to the growth in electronic readers and changing lifestyle habits generally, many of the long-time, faithful patrons of the Middle Haddam Public Library either no longer live in the area or have difficulty physically entering the building. For a multitude of reasons, the library is not used as well as it could or should be.
So what does the future of the library hold? Given the demographic and other social changes in the community, it could close within a number of years and the building fall into disrepair. No one wants that, of course. That is why the board is proposing these changes to the newer wing of the building – to make the library a more inviting, useful, accessible place for everyone. The small annex, the accessible walkway and entrance and the first-floor restroom are an important start. The job of the board and those who care most about the library is also to build new programming, relationships and outreach efforts to make the library useful to and valued by the whole community.
We therefore invite you to a community discussion on Wednesday, June 24, 2015 at 7 pm at the Middle Haddam Public Library to share your thoughts and aspirations for the library’s future, to ask questions, and to offer feedback. If you are unable to attend but have a thought or a question you would like to ask, please feel free to contact us via librarian Janet McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 860-267-9093, or via Facebook.
the Middle Haddam Public Library Board of Directors: