Major Revamp Aims to Get the West Chester Public Library Another 150 Years

150 years strong, the public library has big plans for the future including a new YA area.

Chartered in 1873, the West Chester Public Library has served the community dutifully for the last 150 years. In 1888 with donated land in hand, volunteers and community members began their first capital campaign raising the money needed to erect the turreted T. Roney Williamson Church Street building, a second one started in 2005 would get them to today. Over the years the library has weathered many storms and ushered in just as many changes (you can find an interesting account of those first years here) but the library and staff aren’t interested in reflecting on the past. They are instead launching an ambitious $1.5 million fundraising campaign designed to get them through the next 150. 

So, what will libraries of the future look like? Will whole books be seamlessly transferred to our phones or tablets with a flutter of a device? Will the circulation desk be mannedstaffed by a self-learning robot while workshops in teleporting and deep fakes are conducted in the background? Of course, no one knows, but if we have learned anything from the past 150 years, the changes may not be as much as we expect. 

“The need or desire to sit in a library and read, or study, or work for a while has not changed – there’s just more of the study and work and more meeting with others,” says Clare Quinn, West Chester Library’s Development Manager. “Libraries have become community centers, and places to meet with others, to attend a class, or meet an ESL tutor. It’s those changes we need to keep up with.” 

To do that the Library’s plan for the next 150 does not include robots or self-stacking shelves or glassfront additions, but it does have money to better utilize the space within its historic home. 

“Does the layout and seating work for the people using the library? How can we improve this within the historic building that has served as West Chester’s public library for 135 years? Our answer is a thorough redesign and update of the library’s interior,” says Clare.

Proposed layout design for the first floor.
Proposed layout design for the basement level.

Curved shelving will make accessing onsite materials easier while allowing for new makerspaces, or collaborative work areas. In the redesign, shelving, and circulation desks get much less space, while collections of tables and chairs, moveable ottomans, and book pods get more. There is also a new young adult area that will finally give teens an area all their own. 

The three-floor redesign is just one part of a three-part plan designed to “direct more resources to the things our library users are looking for,” shared Library Director Victoria Dow. In addition to modernizing its interior, the library wants to retire its mortgage and create a financial cushion to address current problems, particularly around staffing. As salaries rise in other industries, it has grown increasingly hard to recruit and retain for open positions. 

“To do this, we are seeking funds for the redesign and to pay off our $412,000 mortgage, and to raise an additional $500,000-$600,000 library stewardship fund so we can address personnel and other operating needs and pay for equipment, materials, and programs in years to come without accumulating debt,” says Victoria. 

If you would like to help, the library is actively recruiting donations. “Community members can help both by committing to give to the best of their ability for each of the five years of the campaign and to encourage their families and friends to give as well,” said Victoria.

You can learn about how to support the Next 150 here.

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