OPINION: Let’s rebuild the Meriden library and get it right

OPINION: Let’s rebuild the Meriden library and get it right

By Michael S. Rohde

“Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities.” — R. David Lankes, University of South Carolina School of Library and Information Science.

The planned revitalization and expansion of the 46-year-old Meriden library building is a compelling project. A Library Review Committee, the nine-person group appointed by the Meriden City Council, has been hard at work envisioning the best options for the nearly half-a-century-old building. They have noted that the library has had more than its share of wear and tear over the years as the “most used” municipal building in the city and is in need of significant upgrades.

Its users are all ages — from young children to seniors — and it has added many new services and resources over the years to keep up with the times and the continuously emerging technologies. But the facility has run out of space and also no longer meets modern code requirements.  

After much study and analysis, the review committee, chaired by Carmine Trotta, has offered three options for consideration by the council: partial renovation at a cost of $6.3 million; full renovation at a cost of $7.8 million; and a third option that would add significant new space (including teen center space) and better layout for access and services at a cost of $9.3 million.

I favor option 3 because it offers the maximum benefit to our community at a time when Meriden is undergoing the biggest downtown resurgence in decades. As Library Director Karen Roessler noted: “The Meriden Public Library serves as a center for educational and cultural activities, independent learning, and family literacy for the entire community. The City needs to incorporate the Library into its overall revitalization plans, making the Library a visible beacon in its civic center, a comfortable ‘living room’ for community engagement and conversation, and an anchor for the Library’s neighborhood and downtown area.”

I also favor option number 3 because, for the first time in our history, it provides for dedicated “teen center” space for teen-specific activity.

Back in 1997, a City Council committee was looking to establish a teen center in Meriden. At the time, Meriden was one of the few communities of our size that did not have a dedicated teen center. We were nearly successful, but budget constraints and mayoral opposition scuttled the plan. Now, two decades later, we have the opportunity to achieve a missed opportunity and offer something positive for adolescents of our city.

One of the most successful teen center programs in Connecticut is hosted by the Hartford Public Library. It is called “YouMedia” and I had a chance to visit this center and see firsthand this impressive program. YouMedia is a place where “teens can freely explore their own interests with innovative programs, including the next generation of digital learning and access to the resources teens need to achieve their goals — career, educational, and personal.”

Adolescence can be a time of stress and turbulence as young people strive to grow into successful adulthood. In these times of rapid societal change, teens need a safe place so they can explore, share, and learn. A teen center is just such a place and would add immeasurably to our community, especially as we strive to make Meriden more responsive to teens.

In addition to the teen center, other benefits of option 3 include an expansion and update of the children’s room, full code updates (including new bathroom accommodations), and badly needed community room meeting spaces.

Carmine Trotta, chairman of the Review Committee, also commented: “The library has lived up to its motto ‘the heartbeat of the city’ and now with the vision local government has for this community nearing reality, the library is poised to be both a component and supplement to that perception.”  

Another longtime supporter of the library and president of the “Friends of the Library” (a fundraising arm for the library), Frank Ridley, said, “The Meriden Public Library is an integral part of the Meriden community.  It is the most heavily used municipal building in the city and touches the lives of most city residents in many ways. It has become more than a place to borrow books and we must upgrade it so it can better function in the twenty-first century. The Friends of the Meriden Public Library will do its part in helping to raise funds to make this happen."

Meriden has the opportunity to bring its public library into the 21st century and beyond with a major makeover.

Let’s do it now, and let’s do it right.

Michael S. Rohde is a former mayor of Meriden.