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The makeover the Cheshire Public Library has been seeking for the past few years looks like it will finally become a reality, as the state is prepared to provide $50,000 to help fund the project.
For years, the library has been planning to reorganize its facility and add radio frequency tags to its thousands of items. The Town of Cheshire had applied for a state grant to help offset the costs but it had to show there was funding in place before additional money would be allocated. The library has secured $50,000 from its own funds via a 2006 donation to the Library Gift Account, and an additional $60,000 from last year's Capital Budget approval. The remaining funds necessary to complete the project will be provided by the state grant.
"We've been thinking about this for five years now. It's going to be wonderful," explained Library Director Ramona Burkey. "We're dealing with an old building that's more than 50 years old and has been added on to three times. There's not much more we can do to the footprint, but we'll rearrange the inside. It's a small thing with a big payoff."
As part of the plan, the library will have to be closed for a few weeks and will look different when it reopens. However, given the library’s summer popularity, any work wouldn't occur until the fall, Burkey stated. The materials will be better organized and taller bookcases will be moved away from the windows facing Main Street to allow for more natural light. Smaller bookcases will be moved to the windows and the larger stacks will be on bigger walls. More seating will be provided and there will even be a self-serve coffee station.
"It's so nice over there. It's going to be an nice, sunny, beautiful place to sit and read," said Burkey.
Additionally, the funds will be used to create a new room specifically for teenagers and the children's area will be rearranged to better use the space. New furniture, such as multi-station computer terminals, will be set up in the teen area for students doing projects and assignments.
"Right now, the teens are crammed into a small area, and that's a no-no for library services," Burkey explained. "They will be able to work in pairs on homework and projects, and we just can't accommodate that right now with our space constraints."
The library requested $300,000 last summer during the Capital Budget process, but the Town Council split the funding between two different years. Approved was $160,000 to reconfigure the library, which was a combination of grants and local funding. The additional $140,000 for the radio frequency identification system was pushed back a year, and will be discussed again this summer. If the Council approves the funding later this year, Burkey said it could be possible to do the reconfiguration and the RFID tagging simultaneously.
"If we get approval for the RFID, then we could do them both together," Burkey explained. "We hope to minimize disruption to the patrons."
State Representative Al Adinolfi (R-103) announced earlier this week that the State Bond commission was scheduled to approve the funding. Investing in infrastructure is a "benefit to everyone" Adinolfi said, and described the project as a "boost for Cheshire."
"The Cheshire Public Library is an important asset for the people of the town," Adinolfi said. "Students, seniors and families with young children take full advantage of the programs and resources offered by our library and this grant will allow them to modify existing spaces to be even more efficient and conducive to a learning environment."
In an effort to free up staff time, materials will be fitted with the RFID tags that will allow for self checkout and returns. Money will be used to set up self-help kiosks, where a patron can check out a book or DVD and then return it at a later date. In the future, these kiosks could also be outfitted to accept credit and debit cards. The library takes in approximately $40,000 annually in late fees, the majority of which are paid in change.
"We’re looking forward to becoming even more efficient with our reconfiguration and expedited checkout process,” explained Burkey.
Last year, the Cheshire Public Library loaned nearly 500,000 items. If every book checked out of the library was purchased by patrons, the cost would be nearly $10 million. Burkey added that the library is the seventh busiest in the state, based on items loaned and hours open.