Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from an op-ed that I wrote. It ran in the June 28th edition of the BCH. – Paul
The latest twist of our long and winding journey to getting a new town library will play out in the coming weeks, as Belmont’s Board of Library Trustees seeks to convince the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) to extend a $7 million grant for the construction of a new Main Library, even though our town will not be able to build on the Concord Ave. site originally proposed.
Amid all this uncertainty, let me state my beliefs. First: in the not-distant future, Belmont will build a new library. Second: that library will continue to be the most-used, most important and most popular public service the town offers its residents. And, finally: regardless of where it’s sited, how much it costs or what it’s called, Belmont’s next library won’t be a library – at least as most of us have known them. In a way, we’re fortunate. Our town library is reaching the end of its useful life at a time when libraries – far from becoming obsolete – are being reimagined and reborn as the beating hearts of a knowledge and information based society. All over the country – all over the world– towns, cities and universities are opening new libraries or rededicating old ones that bear little resemblance to the librarium (literally, Latin for “chest of books”) of old.
Instead, these new buildings are, as The New Republic described them “heavily used, not-for-profit communal spaces.” In fact, our current library already serves that purpose: giving residents access to a whole menu of different “media” including videos, Internet, shared databases and communal meeting space. The problem is that it’s carrying out that mission in a building designed and built half a century ago for storing and circulating books.