Libraries are cornerstones in communities. They serve as meeting places, sanctuaries for readers and non-readers alike, as places to sit and simply be quiet, or to connect people through classes or conversations sparked standing among the stacks of great books. In big cities and small towns, libraries have been and will continue to be integral to a community’s framework. But they are changing.
“This is an exciting time for libraries around the world,” noted Jenny Emery-Davidson, the executive director of The Community Library, in Ketchum. “Libraries are helping people navigate rapid changes in how information is shared across print and digital media; they are exploring innovative ways to present educational opportunities to people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds; and they are increasingly recognized as key to community resiliency.”
To accommodate the changing needs of Ketchum and its community, as well as the structural needs of the existing library space, the “Renew Your Library” project was initiated in the summer of 2014. The project is ongoing.
The Community Library has been in its current space for 42 years, and it hosts over 120,000 visitors yearly—an amazing number for such a small town—and it has proved to be a well-used and well-worn space. In 2014, when capital improvements on the library space were needed, the library board decided to begin plans for a renewal project.
“The Library facility is used heavily, day in, day out, all year round,” said Reuben Perin, the current chair of the library’s board of trustees. “People depend on it. We want to be good stewards of it and modernize it for the 21st century. We also want to be good stewards of Ketchum’s downtown core.”
After a lengthy review of architect proposals, the board hired Dennis Humphries of Humphries Poli in Denver, an architect with extensive experience in library renovations throughout the intermountain West. Along with Humphries’ vision, the library renewal project was guided by over 2,000 comments and ideas from Valley citizens, all gathered during open community forums in the planning stages of the project. For example, citizens greatly value the library’s fireplace and see it as a community icon. In addition, they would like to see more free library programs. In this way, the community will actually be able to see and use a space that they helped to design, which is in keeping with the uniqueness of The Community Library as an institution.
The library is not publicly funded—as are almost all community libraries—but is supported by revenue from The Gold Mine thrift and consign stores and by individual philanthropy. The funding structure was the design of the library’s founders—17 women who started it in 1955—who would likely be happy to know that the changes planned are due in part to direct input from the community that the library serves.
According to Emery-Davidson, the renewal project is primarily a “renovation of the existing spaces—the library’s footprint will grow by only about 2,000 square feet, and the expansion occurs only where it is needed most: in the lecture hall, the Young Adult Library, and the Children’s Library.” Changes to the new library space include everything from new gender-inclusive restrooms, to building concrete footings under the existing building to meet current seismic requirements, to installing a high-quality audiovisual system in the lecture hall.
Library board member Sarah Pettit had this to say about her part in the planning of the project: “[From] poring over feedback from community constituents, raising funds, and then going back to the drawing board many times, to finally seeing the building updates take shape—it is thrilling! I am humbled to have been a part of this renewal.”
One of the most important changes within the renewal project looks to the future of the Wood River Valley community, as well as the future of libraries in general.
“We think it is especially important and exciting to be thinking about the next generations of our community,” Emery-Davidson said. “We want kids to grow up through the library. So, we have devoted a lot of energy and planning to the development of a new Young Adult Library and Multimedia Studio, and we will create a new learning lab, a space that can get messy!”
Sarah Petit is especially excited for that part of the renewal. “On a personal level, being the mom of two young children, as well as teaching middle and high-school-age students, I am ecstatic for the new children’s spaces and teen areas. These spaces will be inviting, safe, healthy and nurturing places for our kids to continue to fall in love with books, to explore information via various technologies, to work and play, and just be together.”
All phases of the library renewal project will be completed by the end of 2019, and the Ketchum community and generations to come will have a new and improved central fireplace where they can curl up with a good book.