The Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously said, “Nothing endures but change.” So it should be no surprise that changes are coming to the Bayard Taylor Memorial Library.
In the most dramatic change, which we announced this week, the library’s board of trustees have now committed to construct a new building on property we own off of East Cypress Street in Kennett Township, just outside the borough of Kennett Square. This new library will be a “green” building with state-of-the art facilities. Specifics of its design and layout will be deter-mined with input from community stakeholders (residents and others) in the eight municipalities we serve: East Marlborough, Kennett Township, Kennett Square Borough, New Garden, Newlin, Pennsbury, Pocopson, and West Marlborough.
Although this new library won’t likely get built for several years, the trustees and I understand that its advent is big news that may stir concerns among those who have grown accustomed to having the library in the center of the borough. Most significantly, those who have lived in town for a while recall that a previous attempt to move the library to this new planned location, on Waywood Road, ended in recrimination and eventual withdrawal of those plans. That was ten years ago, and several things have changed since then to make the new plan more viable, in-deed more necessary than ever.
First, with the help of independent professionals, the current trustees undertook a process over several years of evaluating options for a new library. This involved carefully and exhaustively weighing the costs and benefits of locations both within the borough and outside of it. These deliberations concluded that the Waywood Road property remains the best option both with re-gard to financial considerations and for supporting our ability to continue to serve all community members within our service area.
Second, in the past ten years the borough and its surroundings have evolved. When moving the library was first proposed, the borough faced economic hardship and Waywood Road seemed to lie in the middle of nowhere. Since then, increasing economic vibrancy in the borough and commercial development along East Cypress Street and Route 1 have put the library relocation on sounder footing with regard to its impact on the immediate vicinity.
Third, the aforementioned positive economic developments in the borough have resulted in parking challenges that we cannot realistically meet at our current location or anyplace else within borough limits. By far the No. 1 complaint I get about the library is lack of parking. To build a new library within the borough would require construction of a multi-level parking garage that we cannot afford. Surface parking will cost about $2,000 per spot to construct at Waywood Road. Garage parking can cost ten times that—money that is better spent on facilities within the building that serves the community.
Fourth, the current library building no longer suits the library’s mission. Built in 1960, it is not ADA compliant, its systems are old and in decline, and its space cannot easily be reconfigured to serve the current and future needs of our users. In short, whether we like it or not, change is leaving this building behind.
Finally, the trustees and I understand acutely that it’s not always possible to please everyone. In working toward this critical decision, board members approached those people most familiar with the library’s mission and its funding needs, including some who had previously opposed a move outside the borough. When presented with the pros and cons of relocating, those people strongly agreed that a relocation to Waywood Road is the best option from the perspective of visitor convenience and financial viability.
Perhaps the most significant change of all in the past ten years has been the role of libraries in our communities. No longer simply a repository of books, libraries have become centers for technological accessibility, early childhood education, English literacy, creative expression, business incubation, continuing education, and so much more.
In coming months, all residents and stakeholders within our service area will have multiple op-portunities to tell the library trustees and staff what they’d like to see in their new library and to hear specifically what we envision and how we came to the conclusions we have drawn so far.
Your library currently has one of the biggest literacy program in Pennsylvania, children’s pro-grams that often sell out in a matter of days, overbooked meeting rooms, and a highly compe-tent staff struggling to hold all of this together. Indeed, it has grown increasingly difficult to main-tain proper services in an obsolete building.
“If we want things to stay as they are,” said the Italian writer Giuseppe di Lampedusa, “things will have to change.” If we want a library that works for future residents, we must broaden our thinking about the possibilities for a new library building.
Striving for a great library begins with selection of the proper site, but that is only a first step. The library relies mostly on the local community for funding and of course exists to serve members of that same community. We require your help, support, and feedback, in order to build a great library that serves all of the people of southern Chester County.
I thank everyone in advance for their support of this challenging decision and hope you will un-derstand the complexities that lie ahead—and approach them with patience and enthusiasm. Please roll up your sleeves with us, and let’s go build a great new library!
Murray is executive director of the Bayard Taylor Library in Kennett Square.