Library capital campaign slowed by pandemic

Vineyard Haven library plans for the future.

Before the pandemic, the Vineyard Haven library was ready this spring to go public with a capital campaign to reinvent its public programs room, updating it with state-of-the-art systems and expanding to accommodate the library’s ever-growing number of users. According to their website, since 2007, they have experienced a more than 300 percent growth rate in attendance for adult programs, in addition to maintaining a vibrant schedule for children. Annually, the library hosts several thousand program attendees of all ages, with up to 40 events taking place each month.

So far the campaign has raised $668,000 toward its $2 million goal. Although the full-on capital campaign is on hold because of the pandemic, library director Amy Ryan explains that the process has already demonstrated the need for the project: “It’s come into focus that we’re going to need the space now more than ever, because the room downstairs, being poorly ventilated, is just not really usable in the near future for any kind of programming. The new space is envisioned as a big, flexible one that can be used in many different ways. At this point we’re looking at a large, well-ventilated space with access to the outdoors, which is very useful both in the near- and long-term. It is still something that we feel is an important part of our future, and we’re still moving forward with it, just not as publicly and aggressively as we had planned to. Our date for breaking ground will be pushed back quite a bit.”

The project took root three years ago. Ryan says, “In 2017, the board of library trustees went to the town with a request to fund the planning for a better community room for public events. The request passed, and so the library moved forward. The library trustees appointed a library building design and construction committee, charged with producing requirements for the proposed addition, selecting an architect, and reviewing designs. Because of other town priorities, notably the school, we felt that we didn’t want to ask the taxpayers to take on the burden of paying for this renovation, so we are doing a capital campaign to pay for 100 percent of the construction.”

The group selected Islander Maryann Thompson, who has done projects such as Slough Farm and Polly Hill. Over the years, the committee has worked with her to design a multipurpose room that would include revitalizing the current garden space.

The new space will build out into the garden, but Ryan stresses it is important to realize that because of current overgrowth, the usable area of the new landscaping will be as large as the existing one: “There will still be a generous garden space that will be adjacent to both the reading room and the new program room, with great access, which will allow the opportunity for outdoor receptions after events, and provide more natural light for the expanded reading room.”

Another benefit of doing the design work was that as the project took shape, the library needed to do a current existing-conditions survey with a systems engineer who looked at the heating, cooling, ventilation, and all the other systems in the building. Ryan pointed out that in order to reopen safely in the near future, they will have to have adequate ventilation, so she says, “We now know some modifications we need to make to make the building healthier when reopened.”

The library has been far from quiet in terms of its programming. The Building Fund most recently funded its Zoom access, because it needed to upgrade for its series with Phil Weinstein, who is doing a four-part offering on Toni Morrison’s work. The virtual format allows well over a hundred people to participate. “Our room would not hold that many. And we can bring in a lot of people who are from all over the country, and possibly the world. We’re trying to take advantage of doing online programming,” Ryan said. “There are some benefits to it, despite the drawbacks of not being able to get together in person. We are doing as many or more than what we did in a physical way, now online. Trying to take advantage of what we can out of Zoom.” And as Ryan points out, at the same time, “We’re planning at some point for normal, or new normal, whatever that might be, that will include programming, and that we hope the space will be part of our future.”

The library continues to welcome donations, which are tax-deductible, and invites volunteer support for this project. Learn more about the project at vhplbfi.weebly.com, and peruse the conceptual design at vhplbfi.weebly.com/design.html.