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Reimagining Our Libraries

In the spring of 2017, library administration and trustees announced a space study and design project, “Reimagining Our Libraries,” with the goal of creating a vision for the future. Hundreds of residents contributed ideas at two public meetings and through an online survey, and a working group was assembled of trustees, representatives from community support groups (the Arlington Libraries Foundation, the Friends of the Robbins Library, the Friends of Fox Library), library administration and staff, and Facilities Department staff. The working group was charged with guiding the process through to the schematic design phase with the chosen firm of Ann Beha Architects.

Schematic designs are now complete and ready to be shared at two public meetings in June: on Thursday, June 14 at 7 p.m. in the Robbins Library Community Room, and on Tuesday, June 19 at 7 p.m. in the Fox Library adult fiction area. The same content will be presented at each meeting, and advance sign-up is encouraged through eventbrite (see links above).

Through last year’s public meetings and surveys, a multitude of ideas emerged about what should be preserved and what could be improved in our libraries. The first task of the working group was to sift the feedback and determine the problems, or in architectural terms “program goals,” that could be addressed within the project’s scope. Examples included a larger and more distinct space for teens at the Robbins, more public restrooms, more study and conference rooms, a renovated Children’s Room with a dedicated storytime space, and improved lighting and way-finding at Robbins. Among the most frequently voiced desires for Fox: a fully accessible building with updated infrastructure, bathrooms, meeting spaces, an area for teens, and more seating for adults.

Examples of community desires that fell outside the project’s scope include increased parking options at Robbins and Fox and more hours for both libraries. On some wish lists was a retail café inside the Robbins. When it came time to look at what that would mean for the existing staffing model and how it might impact cafés nearby, the idea morphed into a space with café style seating in which library patrons, especially those with small children, could eat snacks in comfort.

In all, the process of formulating program goals and determining design recommendations required five meetings of the Reimagining Our Libraries working group in addition to multiple library staff meetings with the architect over the course of the year. The result: a bold plan for the libraries that reconciles community-led vision and community-led values (aka protect the collections and KEEP THE BOOKS).

To achieve this plan, it will be necessary to examine various avenues of funding as a next step. Since founding days in the 1890s, a mix of public and private funding has worked to make the library a pillar of support for families, students, and all who live and work in Arlington. We now rank among the highest statewide in circulation, children’s program attendance, e-content circulation and teen print circulation. What will it take to reach new heights, and keep pace with the Town’s evolution?

Library administration and trustees are grateful to have access to information and resources on the state and local levels to help us eventually make these visions a reality, with special acknowledgement of the work of the Arlington Libraries Foundation, the Friends of the Robbins Library, and the Friends of Fox Library.

– Andrea Nicolay, Director of Libraries