To the Editor:
This letter was originally sent to the library board of trustees.
Thank you for giving me and other members of the community an opportunity, at your July 26 meeting, to express our thoughts and provide input regarding the proposed construction of a function room on the footprint of the library garden.
From a number of points of view, there are reasons to revisit the idea of building a new function room over the garden.
Melinda Loberg pointed out that the town is interested in increasing the number of public “vest-pocket” parks in Vineyard Haven, not decreasing them.
Ben Robinson, planning board chairman, pointed out that the library’s architect would have designed the building as he did to ensure plenty of natural light, and this light design should not be tampered with.
Tristan Israel shared his view that the library garden should continue to be a site that commemorates the Shakespearean actor-director-writer Margaret Webster — one of the most important figures in the history of American drama, who had decades-long ties to the Vineyard and its theater community. Webster made extensive stays every year at the cottage she bought in 1939 in East Meadow, Aquinnah, planning her Broadway and London productions, writing (including the delightful “Shakespeare Without Tears”), and socializing with up- and down-Island colleagues, friends, and companions such as Katherine Cornell, Mary Payne, and Jane Brundred, of West Chop. The Margaret Webster garden would be an asset for library users and the general public, and would hold special meaning for the theatrical and LGBT communities. Webster was the first director to successfully bring Shakespeare to Broadway, and to cast an African American (Paul Robeson) as Othello. The garden could be a significant bookend to the Tisbury Cultural District.
It has been asserted that the library garden is not used, in the sense of being occupied by humans. Actually, it has in fact been far more heavily used in the past, for children’s and other programming, in addition to simple sitting, than in recent years. However, “using” a garden does not necessarily mean sitting in it. How often do you see people sitting in the lovely gardens of William Street? Rarely. One of a garden’s primary functions is to provide a view through a window. Everyone who enjoys the library’s living-room-like reading room is “using” the garden: enjoying the view through the French doors and the natural light allowed in. Natural light from the garden also floods the children’s section. Staff members have mentioned to me that they enjoy looking out the garden windows as they go about their tasks. Natural light is, quite simply, a recognized booster of physical and mental health. Presumably the trustees were of this view when they approved an architectural design that included this beautiful natural light source.
Fortunately, the provision of a program room is not a zero-sum game, with the garden being “zero.” The current library structure and parcel provide other options for the creation of a function room. The most obvious one is the space between the library’s north wall and Greenwood Avenue, a “dead” space that is actually an eyesore. The building and the neighborhood would be visually and functionally improved by pushing out the library walls into this space. Doing so would open up significant square footage in the library. Simple reconfiguration of the ground floor would create a beautiful, flexible space to be enjoyed by regular library users and attendees of special events. Such a space would of course be enhanced by the continued existence of the garden, whereas building over the garden not only would rob other rooms of light but also would likely result in a program room dependent on artificial light, and with little appeal in the daytime.
After the July meeting, one trustee, standing with other attendees surveying the unattractive, overgrown north-wall area, agreed that the idea of transforming it bears serious consideration. Such a solution would be a win-win. Win-win is always easier to fund than win-lose, and pleasanter to present to taxpayers. A capital campaign targeted at both of these “wins” -— program room plus garden — would, I believe, be well received by donors.
Other win-win options for expanded function room space would be to build up, over the extension or over the main building, or to expand the footprint of the existing function room on the lower level.
I urge the library trustees to instruct the engineer to use the money voted by taxpayers to provide at least two options for the function room, and to maintain the garden as the asset that it is.