Library celebrates 20 years on Main Street in Brookline

BROOKLINE – Visitors were treated to refreshments, cake, a clown, balloons, crafts and a scavenger hunt at the Brookline Public Library’s open house on Nov. 2.

Staff, trustees and many volunteers were present to help celebrate the 20 years since the library moved from the Daniels Academy Building – now currently Town Hall – to its current site at 16 Main St., which was previously used as a church and youth center.

According to the history on the library’s website, the land was donated by Joseph C. Tucker for the purpose of constructing a house of worship. The United Methodist Church was built in 1859 and remained as such until 1951. For the next 40 years, the church building served as an activity center for town and church youth groups, until the Church of Christ decided to sell the building to the town.

The library had been housed in the Daniels Academy Building since it was built in 1914. The original bequest stipulated that space be dedicated for use as a library, in addition to the town offices and classrooms. The library first occupied a room in what used to be the selectmen’s secretary’s office, where the town clerk now sits. It expanded to what is now the public meeting room on the second floor.

Selectman Brendan Denehy grew up in Brookline and attended classes at the Daniels Academy Building. He recalled how his class moved mid-year once the addition was completed at the Richard Maghakian Memorial School, and said he patronized the library when it was at Daniels Academy.

“My mother was always taking me to the library,” he said. “It was a small room, maybe 15 feet by 15 feet. I spent a lot of time there. I was one of those kids always getting books. I can still remember the day I got my own library card; it was a little yellow card with my name and my mom’s name saying she was responsible for any fines.”

On the outside, the building still looks like a church, from the white clapboards and black shutters to the spacing of the doors and the spire. The interior, however, has undergone various renovations over the years.

“The building was part of a youth center and was all open inside,” said Joe Carter, who moved to Brookline in 1979. “This (main room) was set up as a basketball court with nets at both ends. The old library was small, behind the town clerk’s office, and there was a back door that took you right inside. I don’t remember it being crowded but I do remember going in to read the newspaper.”

As Brookline’s population grew, so did the library collection. Eventually, due to concerns over load capacity and the weight of books, and the need for more space for town offices, the library knew it had to relocate. In 1992, voters approved the $25,000 purchase of the youth center to house the library.

Because Joseph Tucker’s original bequest stipulated that if the property were no longer used as a church it would revert to his heirs, the library had to obtain their approval before the sale could be completed. According to a story published in The Telegraph in 1992, Ellen deGuzman and Midge Chandler, members of Friends of the Library, had the task of locating any heirs who could potentially lay claim to the property. Their research led them to Lionel Weatherall in Munsey Park, N.Y., to Tucker’s great-grandchild and sole living heir, who was happy to relinquish any claim so the building could become the library’s new home.

With that obstacle removed, renovations began in 1992. Voters approved $520,000 that year for renovating the youth center and Town Hall, including a new heating system for each and adding a second story in the library.

During the renovation, square wooden pipes that were part of the original organ were found in the crawlspace under the building. Several of them had markings on them indicating pitch. They were restored by Nadia and John Weidman and now hang on the wall in the staircase as a visible reminder of the building’s heritage.

Laura Austin painted colorful murals in the Children’s Room upstairs, with bright skies, clouds and trees, cats and dogs, and fanciful literary characters, such as those from “Alice in Wonderland.” The murals still adorn the walls today, making lots of cozy places to curl up with a good book. Next time you’re at the library, ask to see the scrapbook on the history and renovation.

There were two large sheet cakes at the open house: One with a photo of the library as it looks today and one with an artist’s sketch of what a future facility might look like.

“The open house was so much fun,” said Library Director Myra Emmons. “It was wonderful to meet and chat with a mix of people and a good opportunity to show off a lot of things. Of course, there are many more things we could do, programs we could offer if we had more space. We do a good job with what we have, but I would like to do more. Last year, we had $1.2 million worth of services used and a $213,000 budget.”

Emmons explained how the value of library services used is calculated based on the number of books, movies and CDs borrowed or downloaded, materials and newspapers read, meeting space used, reference services, computer usage and other similar variables (visit www.ala.org/advocacy/advleg/advocacyuniversity/toolkit/makingthecase/library_calculator for details).

Ed Cook, chairman of the Library Trustees, agreed with Emmons on the library’s importance in the community. Although his children have long since outgrown story time, they still use the library and also serve as volunteers. Cook said he encountered many familiar faces during the open house and even met a resident who had just gotten a library card. He reflected on plans for a new facility in the not too distant future, despite several failed attempts to increase the library’s budget the past few years.

“The need has increased since 2007 Town Meeting but the economy has not been such that we can move forward yet,” he said.

“We want to keep the word out there that the library is widely used and in need of more space, to remind people that this is what we want to move toward. The town has been taking care of things like the police station and new fire truck. The library is such a great resource for so many people, and it is so much more than books.”