Guest columnist Elisa Campbell: Jones Library does not meet the needs of current residents

  • Jones Library in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KEN HEIDEL

Thursday, January 21, 2021

A library is not just for the current residents and others who work here or live nearby. It is also for the future.

Amherst’s current library does not adequately meet the needs of current residents, and if it is not renovated substantially will continue that failure — even make it worse — for future residents and users.

Why do I say that? Let me cite some of the reasons:

Much of it is not accessible to handicapped people.

Its layout is completely confusing; finding different services, the (pathetic) restroom, the Burnett Gallery, Special Collections, stacks with different types of books, children’s books, etc. in a public library should not be a scavenger hunt that people new to the library can’t figure out. The staff at the circulation desk spend a lot of time explaining to people how to get where they are trying to go; they are of course nice people and want to be helpful, but wouldn’t it be better if people could find their ESL appointment without having to ask?

There are only a few restrooms but there are six sets of stairs — some of which no longer go anywhere. Much of the original building with nice rooms and warm attractive woodwork is now not open to the public because it must be used for staff offices and meeting rooms. Programs that are perfectly normal for public libraries, including English as a Second Language, compete for space with other programs like book groups.

In this context, I want to remind us all that 25% of the children in Amherst schools come from families where the parents’ first language is not English. These people are part of the Amherst community and should be served by our library.

Many of the letters to the editor have expressed the opinion that some of these programs should (or at least could) be housed somewhere else — children’s’ books and librarians in the schools, ESL — some other building, maybe schools or the Bangs Center. That is not realistic since the other programs have their own issues regarding space, staffing, etc. For safety reasons, schools are not open to the general public.

The Jones Library is also wasteful of energy. One goal for the new library is to help the town meet the sustainability goals we have adopted. It will do so by using materials that in themselves have a low energy intensity and by decreasing the amount of energy that will be needed to operate the building.

One of the materials will be cross-laminated timber, as in the Olver Building at UMass and a new building at Hampshire College, in place of steel beams. The architects have so far been able to change the future Energy Use Intensity (energy use per square foot per year) from the current amount of 72.3 to 29 (lower than the EUI discussed on the video made in September).

Over 60 years, the new building, including demolition and construction, the energy use by the renovated Jones Library will be about two-thirds of what the current building would use in that same time period. Currently-proposed repairs do not attempt to meet the town’s sustainability goals.

Want to know more? I recommend viewing two videos of chats that took place in September: https://vimeo/com/454784565 — about sustainability; and https://vimeo.com/461385269 — about the overall design.

Elisa Campbell is a resident of Amherst.