A Library Facelift, In Chapters

By on July 11, 2016
Librarians Cheryl Ashley, Catherine Adair Williams, Precious Mack and Bill Trafton, roosting on the new poofs in the Library's Children's Room.

Librarians Cheryl Ashley, Catherine Adair Williams, Precious Mack and Bill Trafton, roosting on the new poofs in the Library’s Children’s Room.

They know, better than anyone, how one should behave in a library. Quiet. Decorous.  And yet, there they were, four of the Verona Public Library’s finest, speaking in exclamation points about what was unfolding in front of them: The delivery of the furniture for the newly remodeled Children’s Room.

“Look at the chairs,” said a giddy Cheryl Ashley, the library director. “Look at the poofs.”

Look indeed. After decades of just barely getting by, the Verona Public Library has embarked on a makeover that will touch almost every inch of its stacks and shelves. The fresh new Children’s Room for Verona’s youngest readers is chapter one, and work has already begun on chapter two, a room dedicated for tweens and teens. There will be new spaces for adult readers, too, and new ways of reaching them. There’s going to be WiFi, more computers and new ways to access much more of the stuff that people go to a library for.

Plenty of new shelf space--and display space.

There’s plenty of new shelf space–and display space–in the new Children’s Room.

The Verona Public Library is a storied building, built in 1923 thanks to a grant from American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. But time has not always been kind to the library’s core structure or the wings that were added later. “Thank God for Lenny Waterman,” says Ashley of Verona’s buildings and grounds chief. “He has kept the place together.” When water damage was found in the library’s basement after Hurricane Sandy, Waterman and crew took their tools to its walls and made the space usable again.

But upstairs, there was more to be done, much more. A survey of library users in the fall of 2014 revealed serious concerns, which a strategic plan committee turned into a roadmap for revitalization. “They wanted a place for the community to gather,” says Ashley. Now, thanks to combination of grants and town funding, it has begun to happen.

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In March, the Children’s Room on the library’s south side was gutted. The new room, unveiled in late June, features what seems to be miles of new shelf space and display space. There is an intriguing new computer, aptly called AWE, delivering early literacy content–both reading and educational activities for the full range of learning styles.

On the day the Children's Room reopened, 400 books were checked out.

On the day the Children’s Room reopened, 400 books were checked out.

Now attention has turned to the old reference room in the north wing. It will become the new home of the library’s young adult collection, which had been crammed into the hallway by the Gould Street door, and young adult activities. When middle school students had descended on the old Children’s Room after school, it often made for an uncomfortable mix of teens and toddlers. When it is unveiled in September, the new Young Adult room will have comfortable seating, computer stations just for teens and tweens, charging stations for all the electronics they carry and much, much more shelf space.

“Precious can’t wait to display her collection,” says Ashley of Young Adult Librarian Precious Mack.

Chapter three of the remodel will put comfortable seating around the fireplace in the main room, move magazines to the main floor and add 14 computer stations for library patrons. (The 2014 user survey revealed that Verona residents believe that libraries and computers can, and should, co-exist.) The entire fiction collection will be moved upstairs with non-fiction and the library is adding an elevator to help everyone get to the books. The survey found that many of the library’s books were going unread because patrons couldn’t easily get upstairs to get them. Four new bathrooms are also going to be installed.

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More than half of the $420,000 total cost of the project is being paid for largely through a Community Development Block Grant secured by Township Engineer Jim Helb, and the township is working on a grant for another $170,000. The average Verona household contributes $132 annually to the library’s budget through taxes, or less than the cost of five hardcover books at retail.

The plaque on the Children's Room's rocking chair.

The plaque on the Children’s Room’s rocking chair.

But it’s not just walls and furniture that are getting a facelift. Later this month, the library will be opening access to Hoopla, a nationwide digital collection of streaming e-books, music and video. That means that library patrons will no longer have put a “hold” on an e-book and wait for the lone copy to be available. “With Hoopla, everything is available immediately, all the time,” says Ashley.

The catch: You’ve got to get a Verona Public Library card, which Ashley estimates only half the town now has, even though it is free. If you do have a current white card, take it to the Library and trade it for a maroon card with the library’s photo on it. The new card will also give you access in September to the expanded PALS Plus collection, thanks to Verona’s participation in a consortia of Essex and Passaic county libraries.

“It’s very hard to be a stand-alone library in this day and age,” says Ashley. “But we have a gem here and we intend to make it shine.”

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