Dailey Memorial Library wants to be heart of the town

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copyright the Chronicle February 7, 2018


DERBY — The long-planned overhaul of the Dailey Memorial Library in Derby is finished.

Outside, a new entrance facing the junior high school pays tribute to the historic façade still in place on the road side of the building. Inside, spacious sunny spaces replace the dark cramped rooms of the old library.

Inside, warm yellow paint, comfortable furniture, and a variety of meeting spaces proclaims the library’s dedication to the community and its families.

A child scampered back and forth between the downstairs children’s library and the upstairs, where her mother was working on a computer.

She read something aloud to her mother, excited over a new discovery, then headed back down to curl up in a child-sized beanbag chair.

“This is not a shhhhh kind of library,” said Ginette Prevost, chair of the library’s board of trustees.

Librarian Maureen Badger happily recalled a few days ago when three families of children were downstairs playing in the children’s area. Besides the beanbag chairs, there are stump chairs, a cozy rocker, and an assortment of child-sized tables.

“They were just loving that new furniture,” she said.

The library is, to all appearances, finished.

One of the last projects still to be done is building a set of rolling bins for picture books.

Most of the time the bins will form a low wall between the children’s area and the kitchen area, which also has space for tables. But when either side needs more room, the bins can be moved to define new boundaries — or rolled completely out of the way. Right now the library is offering tai chi and dance classes in that space, but it could also be used for meetings, community meals, or art classes, Ms. Prevost said.

“We designed the whole place to offer that kind of flexibility,” she said.

Renovating the old building became a possibility a few years back when Reg McDonald left $165,000 to the library.

The original design for the addition, by Newport architect Mark Stewart, was much larger and was expected to cost around $1.2-million.

Library volunteers put on two juried craft shows a year, a pig roast, a book sale, and a yard sale, but that money goes to help cover operating costs, Ms. Prevost said.

So money for the new building depended on donations from the community.

When it became obvious that fund-raising efforts simply weren’t going to net that much money, the trustees spun on a dime and called a “Plan B” committee.

The goal was to figure out a design that met all the needs addressed in the earlier plan, but at a much lower cost.

“We want this to be the heart of the community, a gift,” Ms. Prevost said.

The plan also had to satisfy complex rules for modifying a historic structure.

Within a few months of research and brainstorming, a volunteer group came up with a new 1,600-square-foot design and asked Mr. Stewart to draw it up.

Instead of joining a new building to the old one with a narrow connector, the addition is simply an extension of the original library. The entrance is a split level foyer. On the upper floor, the book checkout and librarian’s office is opposite a cozy reading room with a coffee pot, comfortable chairs, and a table with an always-in-progress jigsaw puzzle. There’s a bank of computers for research or public Internet access. Beyond that, a large sunny space stretches the length of the building.

Downstairs, a corridor passes between storage spaces and a small conference room before opening up into the children’s library. A kitchen counter along one wall allows for fixing snacks. Or perhaps a cooking class. Or serving a community meal.

Every space has multiple uses. The rolling book bins in the children’s section can be moved to make room for classes, big meetings, and community gatherings. The reading room upstairs or the downstairs conference room can host small meetings, classes, or tutoring sessions.

There’s a big new bathroom, and an elevator to make both floors handicap accessible. And with help from Efficiency Vermont, the building is now tight and easy to heat.

The new library, like the old one, keeps a busy schedule of community activities. There’s a preschool story hour on Tuesday mornings and tai chi on Tuesday nights. On Wednesdays there’s a line dancing class, and on fourth Fridays there’s family movie night.

Starting at the end of February, AARP volunteers will be offering tax help one day a week until April 15. Spring and fall, the library hosts one of the six-week book discussion groups for adults offered by the Vermont Humanities Council. And when school’s out, there’s a summer reading program for elementary aged children.

The next ideas in the works are an adult computing class and a movie series for adults.

“I want to show new release DVDs, things people haven’t had a chance to see,” Ms. Badger said.

Ms. Prevost hopes the community will find lots of ways to use the new space. She envisions people taking advantage of the many sizes and shapes of spaces to keep the library’s calendar full all the time.

“We’re open to people who would like to present programs,” she said. “And to any community groups that would like to meet here.”

Even with the more modest design, the project was only affordable because builder Dan Dagesse put every possible effort into keeping costs down, Ms. Badger said.

It expands the historic white building that has been a Main Street fixture since it was built in 1957 on the foundation of the old town hall, which burned. The town hall’s distinctive portico was saved and incorporated into the front of the library.

William Dailey donated the $10,000 cost of that building.

“And there was money left to maintain it,” former librarian Barb Whitehill said in a 2016 interview.

By the time the new century rolled in, the old library had outlived its usefulness. It was small and dark and mostly uninsulated. The single tiny bathroom was downstairs, creating an impossible situation for anyone with mobility issues. The kitchenette didn’t have hot water.

And no two ways about it, the downstairs was decidedly musty.

“It smelled,” Ms. Badger said. “People come in now and say it doesn’t smell anymore.”

Vermont has the highest per capita number of libraries in the country. And despite the building, Derby has always had a dedicated library community, Ms. Prevost said.

“People put in hundreds of hours designing the new space and looking up all the laws and codes to figure out what we could do within our budget,” she said.

And when it came time to move books in and out for the construction, there was a line of volunteers on hand to box and carry. People even stored books in their homes.

Construction began last spring, and the new library opened at the end of October.

“We thought people wouldn’t mind if we didn’t have a library during that time,” Ms. Prevost said. “But Maureen insisted on opening up a temporary library down the street. And she was right. People came.”

During the fund-raising phase, there was a signboard out front with a painted thermometer to show progress toward the goal.

“A visitor came in from out of state one time,” Ms. Badger said. “And he wanted to know why a town like this would need a big new library addition.”

Ms. Badger asked the man to guess how many people came to the library every week.

“He said maybe two or three,” she said. “I told him to make that two or three hundred. He couldn’t believe it.”

But Ms. Prevost believes there’s a hunger for public spaces and face-to-face connections even now that people get so much of their information on the Internet.

She tells a story about a time that she came into the library to work when it was closed.

“I forgot to lock the door,” she said. “And I came upstairs to find a grandmother sitting on the floor with her grandchild in her lap, reading a book out loud.”

contact Elizabeth Trail at

[email protected]

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