At town meeting on April 10, and again at the polls on April 12, West Tisbury voters will be asked to fund 25 percent of the cost of renovating and expanding the West Tisbury Free Public Library. The project itself carries a price tag of $6,055,308, and the town’s share will be $1.5 million. The rest of the funding, more than $4.5 million, will come from private donations and from a Massachusetts Public Library Construction Grant. This remaining money has already been secured.
The need for more space is old news. Demand for library services has shown steady upward growth for a decade and a half. The number of cardholders increased more than 1,000 percent from 1997 through 2011. Among all the Island’s town libraries, West Tisbury has the highest circulation and the largest collection, but the second smallest facility. It is larger only than Aquinnah’s.
Shelf space at the existing library is stretched beyond its limits. To add one item, librarians must weed one item. On any given summer day, as many as 1,500 visitors of all ages share just two restrooms. Many parts of the library no longer comply with state building codes. A recent town assessment found that, regardless of this project, the current building soon will need approximately $296,000 in upgrades and repairs.
We’ve been discussing library expansion for many years. Back in 2007, the space needs committee report confirmed what many librarians already knew from hard personal experience. The West Tisbury Library building is far too small. The report recommended that the library be doubled in size to meet community needs for the next 20 years.
The new plans, whose preliminary design work was funded by the Friends of the West Tisbury Library at no cost to the town, expand the current 5,640 square foot building to approximately 13,000 square feet. Most of that space comes from adding basic features that the present library lacks — a community program room, a young adult area, study and meeting rooms, a director’s office, staff work space, and adequate restrooms.
Whenever a large town construction project comes to a vote, there are inevitably many details about the design and the process that cannot be covered in a brief discussion. For this reason, we’ve been making presentations and gathering public input through surveys and focus groups for the past five years. We’ve held televised public forums almost every month since April of 2010. Island newspapers have published the latest drawings, which were also mailed to each voter and are posted on the library’s website and displayed prominently at the library. Community response has been positive and encouraging.
Hundreds of West Tisbury residents and library users have donated time, energy and money to make this project a reality. Article 14 at town meeting and Question One on the ballot represent the culmination of all this work. Here is a rare and hard-won opportunity to finally achieve something our town has needed for a long time, and both questions must be approved in order for the project to go forward. I hope voters will give us a resounding yes.
Dan Waters has been a West Tisbury library trustee since 2007.