Susan J. Tracy: A new library would protect historic documents

Thursday, October 21, 2021

I am writing to support the Jones Library restoration and expansion. Currently, the library hosts over 200,000 visits a year and has become too worn, too inaccessible, and too cramped to serve our population and needs.

Moreover, the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system is outdated and inefficient. In July 2020 the precariousness of the library structure was dramatically illustrated when an HVAC leak in Special Collections damaged 157 rare books, and numerous letters and documents.

This was the fourth leak in Special Collections since 2015. Among the papers and manuscripts affected were those donated by Noah Webster, Helen Hunt Jackson and Julius Lester. The leak compromised the photography collection by Clifton Johnson (1865-1940) and that by Henry Jackson, a 19th century African American resident of Amherst. As a result of this leak, 710 books and 12 manuscript boxes had to be removed from the shelves.

Later, in a memo for funding to the Community Preservation Act Committee, Library Director Sharon Sharry noted that the books and documents in the collection “are at risk due to a lack of climate control, lack of space and lack of security… the fluctuating temperatures are causing one-of-a-kind historic materials to deteriorate.”

As an historian and a former Hampshire College professor of history, I am disheartened by this breach. My students and I have used the materials in the Special Collections to reconstruct different aspects of the town’s history. For example, one student wrote an outstanding senior thesis on South Amherst’s poor farm using town records from the Jones Library and Town Hall. Additionally, Amherst citizens have employed Special Collections records to document and establish the Lincoln Sunset Historic District. Special Collections preserves the critical documents of our history, which need to be preserved in a temperature controlled space.

Not only will this renovation bring the Jones Library into ADA compliance, provide ESL learners and teachers more room, and enhance the space for children and teens, but it will protect and preserve our valuable historic documents for future generations.

Please vote “Yes” on Nov. 2.

Susan J. Tracy