Robert Pam: Jones Library must evolve with times

  • Jones Library officials say the library needs more space. JERREY ROBERTS

Thursday, June 30, 2016


I am a trustee of the Jones Library in Amherst, and its treasurer. Recent discussions about future improvements to the library have focused more on the uncertainties that are natural at this stage of planning than on our shared objectives and hopes for the library. I hope that clarifying the picture will relieve at least some of the concerns I have heard about our work.

The mission of the Jones Library is to provide access to the world’s intellectual and cultural riches through its collection, programming and its connections to external resources. Its primary focus is on the needs and desires of the people of Amherst and visitors from surrounding areas who come for work and pleasure. As trustees we must consider both the present and future needs of the town and the library.

The Jones is fortunate to own land in the center of Amherst sufficient to house a building capable of meeting most of these needs for the next several generations. Unfortunately, the current size and configuration of the building won’t do it.

The original building constructed 90 years ago, including its expansion 25 years ago, doesn’t satisfy patron and staff needs for space, access, resources, security or comfort, and inefficient systems waste money and energy. Some of these problems can only be solved by a major renovation. The prior renovation was largely funded by a state grant and by our selling a valuable painting; today we will seek grants and donations to reduce the town’s contribution.

Research and reference has shifted from paper and microfilm to constantly evolving electronic forms, requiring more flexibility, seating, electrical power and privacy arrangements.

Children and teens need inviting safe public spaces more than ever, and those spaces must differ from other library spaces in terms of noise, activity level, programming and supervision.

Space is inadequate for our Amherst-related literary and historical Special Collection, our nationally recognized English as a Second Language program, and for our many programs and local meetings.

Patrons with modest means and those with physical disabilities will benefit the most from all aspects of an improved facility.

The Jones was originally designed to look like a welcoming home for all who see or visit it. We intend to maintain that look and feel. The grounds help us achieve a calm and welcoming environment, and over the years we have, and will, welcome suggestions and support.

With regard to the fate of the gardens in the rear of the library I would offer the following summary:

I believe major improvements to the Jones are necessary and appropriate. The most efficient and economical way to do them is through a single renovation, particularly if the commonwealth will fund part of it.

I believe that meeting the needs of Amherst and curing the defects of the current structure will require some expansion. The library’s architects have been instructed to keep the façade and internal appearance of the original building to the maximum extent possible. I and others continue to press our architects to find solutions that will work with the least additional space and lowest cost.

A project like this unavoidably involves some demolition and construction, which will require space for waste and supplies, and for equipment to maneuver and be stored. Realistically, these must take place in the rear of the library.

The process will create dust and debris which will close the library for a period of time for the safety of patrons and staff, and would likely be equally dangerous to current plantings and landscaping.

Consequently, for the library to carry out its mission, the existing garden may have to be reshaped and/or relocated as needed. In the meantime the library will work with anyone to maintain and improve the current Kinsey Garden and other grounds of the library.

This is why the library has argued strongly for an opportunity to evaluate alternatives and prepare designs before making any commitments regarding the grounds surrounding our home.

We haven’t received any designs yet. I understand the frustration of being unable to review a plan, but that is the price of early involvement in the process. I believe most people involved in the debates agree on the desirability of achieving the improvements I described.

We don’t know how many of our hopes can be realized. But whether this process takes one year or 10, the Jones Library trustees understand that we depend on the respect and generosity of neighbors for everything we do, and will not willingly jeopardize those relationships.

Robert Pam lives in Amherst. Views expressed here are his own, not those of the Jones trustees.