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Patience is name of the game for Grafton library project

By Rod Lee

No one knows better than Beth Gallaway how pinched the Grafton Public Library is for space and this has nothing to do with her office being not much bigger than a broom closet.

“Every shelf is packed to the end,” Ms. Gallaway said last Tuesday afternoon before heading into a two o’clock meeting with principals involved in bringing to fruition a renovation and expansion of the facility in the aftermath of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners’ awarding of a “provisional construction grant” of $7.4 million which would defray about 45% of the total cost of the project.

Throughout the months leading up to town voters approving the borrowing of $16.6 for a modernization initiative that will allow the library to meet the needs of a community that is expected to increase in population to around 22,000 by 2035, Ms. Gallaway has been a vocal advocate for “moving forward.”

Ms. Gallaway put her thinking as director of the GPL in terms residents could easily grasp when she pointed out earlier this year that estimated expenses to homeowners for the build would amount to $111 per year for “the average home” valued at $364,531—“or less than the cost of four hardcover books at $27.99 each, a year’s subscription to Netflix or four music lessons.”\

As a veteran of the industry Ms. Gallaway has been well-positioned to make the case for an upgraded library. Originally from Danvers and educated at Bradford College and Simmons College, she was assistant director of the public library in Haverhill for two and a half years before coming to Grafton in January of 2013. “Before that,” she said, “I was a library consultant and trainer. I gave advice on library projects, especially with the technology aspects of these including video gaming. Before that I was a teen librarian and before that a circulation assistant and a circulation supervisor. And I started out as a library volunteer!”

Although architecturally striking and handsomely landscaped at 35 Grafton Common, the red-brick structure is woefully inadequate to the purpose, Ms. Gallaway said. Patronage last year came to “82,000 visits” based on the electronic door counter employed to chart traffic coming and going but this number is in actuality “low.” Meanwhile “stock” available to patrons is low as well because there isn’t enough room to accommodate more. The new library will “triple the current footprint” to between 21,000 and 25,000 square feet and “we will have the capacity for 92,000 to 96,000 items; books, magazines, DVDs,” etc., she said.

“We will be able to do so much more programming on-site too. Last year we ran five hundred programs, which brought in 13,000 people.” Some of these had to be held elsewhere, like the municipal center. “It is challenging to operate these off-site,” she said. “Ideally your programs support your collection.”

In a press release issued by Dana M. Wilson, Ms. Gallaway was quoted as saying the application to the MBLC prepared by herself and the Board of Library Trustees in January was a strong one in a large candidate pool. “Grafton’s application was well-received” and OK’d at the MBLC’s meeting in Needham on July 13th. Grafton, she said, was awarded “almost a million dollars more than we expected.” Also, at No. 16 on the wait list (of twenty-four communities), Grafton could move up “since we already have secured funding approval from the town.”

The Grafton Public Library Capital Campaign, a nonprofit organization, has received $260,000 in pledges since May. Individuals who would like to join the group and become involved in fundraising are asked to contact Dana Wilson at 508-244-1400 or [email protected].

Ms. Wilson has been a trustee of the GPL since 2004 and says “I use it all the time! I have two children. I don’t buy books anymore. I can’t afford them” (for patrons in this situation, she noted, the library has a “Down Under” rack). “My son, who is nine, reads up to nine books a week. I also get movies and magazines from the library and I belong to a book club.

“Always with a library expansion circulation goes up,” Ms. Wilson said. “The town of Shrewsbury gave out six hundred new library cards a month when its new library first opened.

“What’s exciting for me is Grafton’s new library will be a help to the whole Common area, the Grafton Inn, Bushel N Peck. The Common is underutilized right now; and the town is planning to put $1 million into refurbishing the Common.”

Last Wednesday, after her meeting of the day before, Ms. Gallaway admitted she wasn’t quite “as optimistic” about the timeline for the project as she was twenty-four hours earlier. Because the project is wait-listed, Grafton selectmen are reluctant to push full-speed ahead “with no guarantee of receipt of funding” from the state Legislature, which might not come for a year or longer.

She will again go to bat for the project in an appearance at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting on August 1st, when selectmen are expected to officially accept the MBLC grant.

“We won’t be breaking ground anytime soon,” she said.

“But it will happen!”

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.