Maplewood Community Library to undergo expansion

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The Maplewood Community Library was the busiest location among the library branches, a 2018 Branch Facilities and Operations Plan found. 

Patrons of the Maplewood Community Library will soon have to go to a new temporary location as the branch closes for renovations.

The current facility was built in 1959 and is approximately 7,550 square feet. The expansion will add 2,600 square feet from the purchase and demolition of the lot behind the library on Augustine Street. Support from state Assemblymember Sarah Clark and funding from the American Rescue Plan Act and the city of Rochester made the project possible. The proposal before City Council lists the total cost at $7.8 million, with 96 percent coming from ARPA funds.

The new facilities are inclusive of community voices and incorporated three public meetings and a “children’s design committee” session into the final plans. The construction will result in a new parking lot, an outdoor play area, a new community meeting room, and expanded space for tutoring, small group work, or club meetings.

“When the architects came in to talk to the kids, they asked ‘What do you want?’ because they’re such a big population that comes here. And they were like ‘Oooh I want this and this!’ and were really excited. But then as it got closer, there was a realization that this space is going to be closed for a while, then it’s nervousness,” says Maplewood’s Children’s Librarian Mark Hafer. “A year to two years as a four-year-old, that’s half your life! That’s tough.

Expansion plan

“We actually walked with a group of kids to (the temporary space) so they got to see it and get used to it,” he continues. “And for some of them, it’s right across the street from their house now. Now they’re like ‘Cool! This is even easier for me!’”

“One of our (young) regulars said we should have a ball pit,” laughs Branch Supervisor Johanna Buran.

This expansion was sorely needed due to the use Maplewood sees, explains Patricia Uttaro, director of the Rochester Public Library and Monroe County Library System. She says the 2018 Branch Facilities and Operations Plan noted it was the busiest location among the 10 branches in Rochester, serving a population of over 19,100 and averaging 5,800 visitors, 800 hours of computer use and over 30 programs offered per month. 

“All of our libraries are not the stereotypical 1950s library with people shushing. They have this dimension of community centers,” Uttaro says. “Ten to 15 years ago, we asked people, what do they want their libraries to be? What should they look like? And we started making those changes. Which is why we have this love and appreciation for them now.”

Internet access, faxing services (which are required for sending certain government documents), and English language acquisition or GED classes are particularly important for Maplewood’s patrons, many of whom are families of immigrants or refugees.

The library’s surrounding neighborhood has a foreign-born and youth population of 12 percent and 30 percent, respectively, compared to 8 percent and 17 percent citywide. That is reflected with the amount of programming offered by the library, especially with youth.

“It’s sort of like their living room, we see them grow up here,” says Buran. “Like we know their mother who was pregnant with them and then they age in the library.”

A public meeting detailing expansion plans.

It’s a location where she remembers a young man who used to hide under her desk at age two and now is in elementary school. Buran and Hafer both remark that generations have come through their library with older siblings often “passing the torch” to younger relatives.

One 10-year-old girl who visits weekly, hearing the library was planning an update, donated the change she found in her book bag to the effort. She said about her donation: “I was taught growing up to give what I have.” Buran was touched by the donation but laughed at the young patron’s next comment.

“She thought we were broke,” Buran recalls. “But I’m not surprised (by the gesture) because our people are just really that caring.”

Following the COVID pandemic, which was an isolating experience for many, library staff believe their offerings have become even more important to the community. Traffic and daily visit counts are on their way to returning to pre-pandemic levels across the city.

“Libraries are one of the last public spaces that people can go to and not have to buy anything, not have to explain why they’re here. People can follow their own courses of interest; nobody is telling them they have to read this or they have to do that. It’s a very non-judgmental place,” says Uttaro. “Consistently, people have told me throughout my career that libraries are dying and no one uses them anymore, and it is so far from the truth.”

Pending a final vote by Rochester City Council, the Maplewood Library will close on June 3, opening its temporary site at a later date. Construction on the expanded facilities is expected to take around 18  to 24 months.

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and data journalist. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

One thought on “Maplewood Community Library to undergo expansion

  1. As a retired Librarian, I am glad to see this expansion happening! I too repeatedly heard that libraries are obsolete, but that could not be further from the truth. One of the reasons I enjoyed working in public libraries was that I got to see patrons of all ages, from children who were there for Storytime to seniors who read the paper, used the computers, asked me to help them with their electronic devices, and shared their life stories. It was a career that was always interesting, and often rewarding. Libraries provide a multitude of services, and as you can see from this article, that includes sharing love and appreciation for their patrons. I’m glad that the City of Rochester and the Assemblymember recognize the value of libraries.

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