The first public meeting regarding the McKim Building Master Plan was held virtually on October 28, where attendees were asked for input on how they currently use the building, as well as their thoughts on the building’s future.
The Central Branch of the Boston Public Library (BPL), where the McKim Building is located, has already undergone several renovations over the years, including recent renovations to the Johnson Building.
BPL President David Leonard said that “2/3” to “3/4” of the McKim Building was renovated in the early 1990s and 2000s, but is now “left with a third floor that really is in great disrepair.”
He said the master planning project consists of renovations to the third floor of the McKim Building, as well as the plaza on the outside of the building on the Dartmouth St. side.
“We will balance repair, restoration, and reimagining,” he said. “Our goal is really to bring collections emotionally, physically, and intellectually closer to the people; a 21st century palace for the people.”
Jim McQueen, Senior Project Manager for the city’s Public Facilities Department, said that the project is still in the beginning stages, and the team is looking for input, suggestions, and concerns from users of the building.
Mary Ann Upton, a partner at designLAB Architects, which is working on this project with Shepley Bulfinch, said that the planning process began in August, and the focus of this particular community meeting was “listening and gathering ideas.”
She gave a brief overview of the project, and said that the “big ideas driving discussion” around this project include things like equity, sharing the story of the BPL, and ensuring accessibility, among others.
The project goals include activating the Dartmouth St. plaza, improving the educational experience, upgrading systems, and more.
Right now on the third floor of the McKim Building, only the Sargent building is open to the public, Upton said. She said that many of the rooms were never finished, and “over the years, these spaces have been used and furnished and lighted in many ways,” which “really leaves us to open the door to ask what’s next. This is really our story to write…”
While there are a wide variety of programs currently offered at the Central Branch of the BPL, the team said they were considering blending them between the McKim and the Johnson Buildings, if that is something people would be interested in. They also came up with ideas for new programming in the categories of reference and research, education and experimentation, and people and culture.
“We hope that you could provide some insights on what equity, access, and outreach means to you,” she said.
Attendees were then separated into breakout groups, where they answered several questions about what they would like to see on the Dartmouth Plaza, and what they like and might want to change about the McKim Building.
Some of the feedback included things like concerns about the accessibility of the McKim Building as it is now, as well as putting art, places to sit, and shade trees on the plaza. One person even suggested potentially projecting movies on the outside of the building.
Other comments included that there are so many spaces in the McKim building that can only be used for private events, and people would like to see those spaces be activated for regular public use and other programming. Some said they were confused about the entrance to the McKim and whether or not it was public, and some also said that it is “not obvious” where the books or resources are.
People also wanted to see more children’s programming in the McKim Building, as well as creating a stronger connection between the McKim and Johnson buildings.
Dealing with homelessness in Copley Square in a kind way that would help individuals was also a topic that was brought up, as was making the library more diverse and “not so Western-centric.”
Upton said that everyone should check the project page on the BPL website for updates regarding the project and any upcoming meetings. Additionally, a survey will be posted with the same questions asked at this public meeting to generate even more feedback about the building and the project.
““Under the rubric of ‘repair, restore and reimagine,’ and with community input, we are updating the Master Plan for the McKim Building, with particular attention to the un-renovated third floor and the Dartmouth Street Plaza,” David Leonard told the Sun. “We would love to both restore more of the building to its former glory while at the same time transforming it into a space befitting the educational, research and cultural needs of the entire BPL user community.”