By Janet Curley
As of last week, the renovations on the Holyoke Public Library were complete and it opened its doors once again. The library itself is a grand building originally built in 1900 with generous donations from the Skinner family. I remember going into the atrium as a child and looking at the the murals, added in the 1940’s, which lined the walls near the ceiling. They told the story of the history of Holyoke from its home to local Native Americans, to it’s establishment as a city, and through its industrial heyday as a mill town. The pride in the city is evident in the very structure of the library itself.
Today, the old structure is still there. The columned facade and the atrium with the murals all still stand, now turned into a reading room. However, the front entrance is now the back of the building. The stacks which occupied the rear of the building were removed and a modern new entrance and 3 story glass frame has been erected. The effort, I believe, is to create an inviting, light space which would be visible to the neighborhood. New computer rooms and community rooms were incorporated to keep up with the changing ways in which libraries can now serve the communities in which they are situated.
The neighborhood around the library has seen better days, to be sure. But as I drive along Chestnut Street towards the new entrance, I drive by a community garden, a parochial elementary school, a local church and new affordable housing which show an effort to be comfortable, not just utilitarian. The library renovations demonstrate an effort to be a part of the downtown and to be a public library. Although it will run into challenges that all public areas have, I appreciate the intention.
On its opening day, I walked through the older part of the library which, incidentally, is where the Holyoke History Room is located. I looked toward the old entrance. I tried to see it as it may have been seen on its first opening day. Perhaps my own great grandparents took a tour and marveled at the wood and stone work, leafed through new books and signed up for a library card.
Then I looked back toward the new entrance, bringing in the light of the day. Families were bringing their children to get their library cards and carefully walking through the new and old sections. Adults remembered their days in the stacks and down in the old children’s section. Now they walked up to the new children’s section which is a large airy space overlooking the new entrance. Parents were sharing their library experiences with their children while seeing how they would create their own experiences in this new space. I am glad that there was a decision to keep the historical building while investing in the future. Continuity in a community creates ownership and pride. Genealogy doesn’t just have to be about family history, but also about community history and I love being able to connect with it when I return to my hometown.