NOTL Public Library needs room to grow, but where?
BY MICHAEL WALES
Accessibility and funding seem to be the main characters as the next chapter is written in the history of the town's public library.
The library is outgrowing its current home in the Court House basement on Queen Street, a location that is becoming less and less accessible as the population around it ages, and tourists snatch what little downtown parking exists.
"This is an aging community, and this is a difficult, if not impossible public facility for anyone beginning to fail," says Gerda Molson, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library's head librarian.
The library has been in its present location for nearly 200 years, and aside from the fact that it's bulging at the seams, it's just not that easy to get into, Molson explains.
"I think there's a growing population that we don't see anymore, because they just don't feel safe coming here," she says.
But the barriers to the library aren't just physical, Molson points out, citing the 10,000 library members hailing from all four 'corners of the community.
"There's only 3,500 people in the Old Town, so there's a good 6,500 people that have to use a car to get here."
The library board held a public meeting last Tuesday night to give the public a chance to respond to an architect's report that presented some of the options available.
The main conclusion of the report is that a new modern facility is necessary, and it suggests that the library either move to an existing building, such as a school or the hospital if the recommendation to close it becomes reality, or build a new one in Virgil or as part of the retirement community slated for development near Garrison Village.
Building a brand new facility, however, is a long shot because of the cost involved, Molson says.
But these options remain as mere suggestions, and Molson is quick to point out that nothing is written in stone.
"It was a generic look at what might be possible," Molson says of the report.
"Once the dust settles there might be something to look at, but we won't be doing anything within the next six months."
The thought of moving the library didn't go over to well with some residents who attended Tuesday's meeting, however.
A move would be seen by some as admitting defeat to tourists, and, as the library is one of the few Queen Street facilities left that is primarily aimed at NOTL residents, any connection with the town's most historic thoroughfare would be lost.
"I would rather it be in the centre of town," says King Street resident Ann Stokes, who attended the meeting.
"I wouldn't particularly like it to be in the middle of a field."
Both Stokes and Margherita Howe suggest that the library look at the possibility of expanding to the main floor of the Court House, which they say would provide more space, while addressing access issues.
Not only would such a plan keep the library on Queen Street, but it would come with a smaller price tag than some other options, Howe said.
"We have to differentiate between what we need and what we want," Howe says.
"And we have to ask ourselves 'Can we make do with what we have?"
But Molson told the Advance that expansion to the second floor of the Court House may just result in higher operational costs down the road.
"Anytime you operate a public facility on two levels, you double your operating costs," she says.
"So long-term costs would be far, far greater and have much more impact in the long term."
No firm decisions have been made yet, and most likely won't be until the all-important question of funding is answered.
"The very big question here is funding," Molson says, adding that there may be some money available from a federal infrastructure program.