Residents making use of recently opened library in Meriden

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 04-24-2023 5:15 PM

MERIDEN — During the nearly 18 months the Meriden Library was under construction, 5-year-old Mary Bae would often ask her mother, Nalee Bae, when it would be finished.

“We used to drive and check on the progress of the library,” Nalee Bae said.

That wait ended last week when the new library on Bean Road officially opened to the public. Construction started after a yearslong debate among community members about whether a town the size of Plainfield needed two libraries. The Philip Read Memorial Library is located on Route 12A on the other side of town. Ultimately, residents supported the construction project, provided that no new taxpayer funds were used for it.

“It was years and years to make this happen,” said Mary King, director of the Plainfield Libraries, noting that Meriden has had a library since 1797. “It was understandable that people wanted that to continue.”

The old building was demolished in fall 2021 and construction began in earnest last May on the same footprint. Construction cost around $1.2 million, with the majority coming from private donations and fundraising efforts, King said.

“We’re very excited for it to be up and running,” Nalee Bae said Monday during an interview from the children’s space in the new building as she read a book with her 3-year-old daughter Alice Bae. “It’s so much brighter and it just feels more open.”

Bae’s comments have been echoed by other patrons and library staff.

“The goal ultimately was to make (the library) handicapped-accessible,” King, who has been a librarian in Plainfield for 13 years, said in an interview at the Meriden Library.

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The new library is one floor and includes two wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, in addition to a community room that has space for about 40 people. There’s a smaller room that would be ideal for book groups, and patrons have begun to use it to work quietly on their laptops. Natural light streams across wooden beams through wide windows.

“Already we’re seeing people come in ... and they stay,” King said.

That wasn’t always the case with the old building: A staircase — which King estimated took up around one-third of the building and led to a children’s area downstairs — was difficult to navigate for parents, children and those with mobility challenges. There also was a staircase to traverse to enter the old building.

“The stairs were a little scary for the kids,” Bae said. “It’s nice to be able to walk right in.”

Another small — but substantial — change has to do with the way bookcases are spread out. In the previous library, the stacks would dead end, which forced patrons to turn around and retrace their steps. Now, the bookcases line up to open aisles, making it easier for patrons to browse.

Peter Legare, who has worked for the library for around eight years, is particularly happy about the new community space. There are plans to install a system to allow for hybrid programs — where people can choose to participate from the library or virtually.

“It’s better when a library moves from being just a library to a community center,” he said during an interview at the library.

The Meriden Library and Philip Read Memorial Library each are open 22 hours a week. They are both open Monday through Friday, with one library open in the morning and the other in the afternoon. The Meriden Library is open the first and third Saturday of every month; Philip Read, the second and fourth.

King is the only full-time employee; there are currently four employees who work part time and one open position. All employees work at both libraries.

“We like to think of it as one library between two buildings,” Legare said, noting that each library has different materials. “A large percentage of the population go to both.”

“They both complement each other,” added Anita Brown, who has worked for Plainfield Libraries since 2021.

Staff are in the process of restarting programs, including story times and book groups, at the new space. King also is working on bringing back volunteers to both libraries. A community celebration for the library is scheduled to take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 10.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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