Libraries: A Love Story

The original library building in Westhampton. Independent/Courtesy Westhampton Free Library

Once upon a time, a library was simply a place where books lived.

But, as the years passed, and people became busier, and there was less time for reading and more distractions like color TV and so on, public libraries became stodgy and old, with musty books and old ladies who said “Shhhh!” a lot. At least, that was how some people imagined them to be.

But then as families fractured, and teens became bored, and an aging population needed information, libraries became more than just a place where books lived. They became essential community hubs.

Today, libraries provide everything from lessons in defensive driving, CPR, and English as a Second Language, to talks by experts and authors on every subject imaginable, to teen game nights and senior dance classes, legal forums and free internet, summer fairs and movie nights — and, of course, books.

In a couple of generations, libraries went from being stigmatized as a hidey-hole for researchers and academics to vibrant centers bursting with culture, creativity, and conversation.

And a few of the local libraries are getting some love from the government, just in time for the back-to-school crowd. Recently, libraries in Hampton Bays, Quogue, Southampton, and Westhampton have received state funding for construction and broadband infrastructure projects.

New York State Public Library construction grants have been awarded to the Hampton Bays Public Library for $58,960; Quogue Library for $326,000; Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton for $12,777; and Westhampton Free Library for $357,731, according to a statement from the office of Assemblyman Fred Thiele.

And it couldn’t have come at a better time. According to the New York State Education Department, the state’s public libraries are in urgent need of renovation and upgrading. More than 52 percent of the more than 1000 public library buildings in New York State are over 60 years old, some of them much older than that. Another 31 percent are more than 30 years old.

Hampton Bays Library will use the grant for a roof replacement and lighting upgrades, while Quogue Library will apply the funds toward interior and exterior upgrades to increase energy efficiency, to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and to upgrade security. Rogers Memorial Library will also upgrade its security system with the grant.

Westhampton Free Library is applying the funds toward interior renovations, and is looking at a grand reopening on Sunday, September 15, from 1 to 3 PM.

The Westhampton Free Library Association opened its doors on Main Street on March 1, 1897, with a charter signed by Melvil Dewey, creator of the Dewey Decimal System, the gold standard in classification for libraries around the country.

In 1906, property owned by Ralph and Laura Cutter was gifted to the library and the first building was erected at a cost of $3200.

Then, according to the library’s website, in 1951, a gift from the Westhampton Chapel Society led to the erection of the Library Avenue building. Two extensions were added two years later, courtesy of the Judge Harold Medina Fund. Over the next 30 years, the library continued to expand to suit a growing community, with further additions and expansions, and then the purchase of the Library Avenue location in 2003 as a site for the library’s programs.

But as it grew and grew, it also needed renovations. The library moved to a temporary location in September 2008 and stayed there until the new building opened on June 26, 2010. The Westhampton Free Library received its LEED Gold Certification in December 2010.

The reopening will mark the culmination of the library’s interior design and expansion project. The project included the conversion of 2750 square feet of unused space within the library into usable space.

Specifically, it includes an expansion of the children’s program room, new teen area and program room, new multipurpose room, new tween area, and reconfiguration of the main floor of the library to accommodate more efficient flow, new lounge area, group study, and a quiet study room.

“We are thrilled that the project has come to fruition and are looking forward to celebrating with the community,” library director Danielle Waskiewicz said in a press release.

The New York State Library and NYSED approved 251 construction projects for public libraries and public library systems throughout the state for around $34 million in capital fund appropriation.

State aid for library construction helps local libraries and library systems to complete required renovations, create additions, update electrical wiring to accommodate computer technology, meet standards of energy efficiency, renovate facilities to provide full accessibility to library users with disabilities, and provide meeting rooms to accommodate community needs.

“We are very much looking forward to our grand opening celebration. The new space that has been created as a result of the renovation project provides the opportunity for the library to offer even more programs to our community,” said Waskiewicz.

And so, for several East End institutions, a new chapter begins.

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