LEBANON — After a decade of planning, the Library of Lebanon — its staff, patrons and community members — celebrated on Saturday a series of new renovations that addressed longstanding issues including safety, accessibility, sustainability and cosmetic updates to the building.
The library, originally built in 1909 and located next to Colburn Park, is “where people can find support and help and good books,” said programmer and outreach librarian Celeste Pfeiffer, 33, of Hartford.
Renovations, completed over the past year and mostly during the pandemic, include expanded and improved public meeting spaces, a new central staircase that allows for easier navigation between floors, additional bathrooms and an attendant’s room, updated lighting and carpeting, and much more more.
“One of our goals was to make sure we had more quiet space,” said Assistant Library Director Amy Lappin.
A new study room, donated by the Rotary Club of Lebanon, and an “arcade” study room with Nintendo Switch and wall-mounted TV helped achieve this goal and can be booked online.
Although brainstorming and some minor projects for the library’s renovation had been in the works for a number of years, an architect was only consulted in 2019 when it became clear that construction expertise was needed before any significant changes could be made.
“We’ve made these incremental improvements,” Library Director Sean Fleming told me. “It showed the community that we could invest in the building and would make it more usable.”
“It’s so wonderful to see the goals of the fellowship finally[happening],” said Pfeiffer. “It’s really nice to see these accessibility efforts being reflected.”
Improvements included relocating the front circulation desk to accommodate users with limited mobility, installing heat pumps and an air filtration system, and expanding the granite step in front of the main door to make library access safer.
Cosmetic updates also add new appeal and excitement to the look, especially in the children’s room.
“This room in particular is so full of joy and childlike energy,” says Pfeiffer, pointing out the colorful lights and geometric patterns on the carpets.
Prior to the 2021 renovations, the library had not seen many modernizations of this type since 1985.
Short speeches were made at Saturday’s celebration by Lebanon Library Foundation President Pat Hayes, Mayor Tim McNamara, Deputy Director Lappin, Library Trustees Chair Fran Oscadal and Library Director Fleming.
Around 40 visitors gathered on the front lawn for free soda and corn on the cob to listen to the speakers, watch the official ribbon cutting outside the library doors and tour the recently renovated interior.
“It was a wise decision that we had to preserve this beautiful landmark,” Hayes said, pointing to the library behind him during his speech.
Of about $2 million spent on the new renovations, $300,000 was raised through donations, Hayes said. The rest came from taxpayers’ money.
“This exceeded our original goal,” Hayes said. “That’s why we’re here today, to thank you all.”
McNamara reflected on the positive influence the public library had on him growing up in Lebanon in the 1960s.
“(It) was really my window on the world,” he said. “Books were everything to me and I devoured them by the hundreds.”
“Building libraries can be complicated,” Fran Oscadal later told me.
Oscadal, 72, from Lebanon, used to work for Dartmouth College’s campus libraries. He said “seemingly simple” changes can make a big difference in a library, especially a public one.
A public library serves a higher purpose than just books, he said; Rather, “it performs many social functions,” Oscadal said.
“You have the housed and the unhoused, people of all economic backgrounds, people who just want to come for a book, but also people who want to stay to have a chat,” Oscadal said. “(The library) is really a part of the social fabric of the community.”
Six-year-old Yara Harmon lives in Lebanon and comes to the library with her mother, Hayley Very, 33, to borrow books she reads at home.
“I can read!” Books are among her favorites, or anything about cats and puppies, she said.
The children’s room in the library, which was updated as part of recent renovations, is now much more welcoming and accessible to families, Very said.
Harmon also uses the library’s “art chest,” where parishioners can drop off art items they no longer need and take home other people’s art items, an exchange of sorts.
“Public libraries are one of the best aspects of life in this country,” said Very, who went to her local public library with her mother. “The fact that everyone is welcome is something special.”
Rose Terami can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.