Capital Campaign Kick-Off is Launched to Renovate the South End Library

By Beth Treffeisen

Jazz and blues illuminated the park outside the South End Library as community members and passersby stopped and listened to Pat Loomis and his band in the final concert of the season.

To kick the night off, there was a brief introduction for the “soft opening” of the combined Friends of the Public Library (FOSEL) and the Boston Public Library (BPL) capital campaign,
Writing the Next Chapter,” which will bring much needed renovations to this Boston Public Library branch.

The unique partnership’s goal is to raise $50,000 by October to augment the BPL’s FY2018 capital allocation of $132,000. The FOSEL board has already contributed $30,000 toward this goal.

The funds will go towards phase one of the two-phased interior renovation of the downstairs branch.

“There is an urgent reason why we need these renovations,” said Marleen Nienhuis, president of FOSEL. “The library has become a homeless shelter.”

Nienhuis said that the place has become a popular place for homeless people to use, especially for those who come in to use the computers to check emails or charge their phones.

But the problem is that there is no separation between the computer section and the children’s section, which can cause problems when inappropriate things are displayed on the screens. In addition, the high book stacks are currently blocking the line of sight from the librarians at the main circulation desk – making it difficult for them to monitor activity.

“The library is for everyone and it has become a dumping ground for the homeless,” said Nienhuis. “We need to provide services for them here.”

For example, she said in Arizona the public libraries have 24 nurses who cycle between the branches that help with health care needs of the homeless.

“But we don’t even have the means to do that here,” said Nienhuis. “The library should be able to provide services for everyone.”

The proposed redesign will work to improve the downstairs interior space to better support programs, services, research, browsing and borrowing.

Updates will include a state-of-the-art power and network infrastructure, renovated children’s area, dedicated space for teenagers, centrally located circulation desk, and multiple seating arrangements for adults.

There will also be wired tall tables for quick computer checks, new offices and staff room for the library staff, and flexible space for conferences and tutoring.

The next phasing of the project will go into expanded the library to add more community and meeting space upstairs.

The building is an early example by the firm of Mitchell/ Giurgola Architects LLP, and has architectural significance, and will likely require various preservation efforts.

“The library was designed in the era of the space flight,” said Nienhuis. “It is unique for the area and you can’t tear it down so we will have to work with it.”

Nienhuis said the library is only going to have to close down once for the renovations. For the most part, the library will continue to stay open.

“We hope to have enough money for the second phase to continue and complete it,” said Nienhuis.

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