I visited old haunts in my hometown a few weeks ago and ended up floating through one of my favorites – Chester C. Corbin Public Library. I learned that time had finally taken its toll on this landmark. The peeling paint and tattered linoleum signaled that perhaps the end was near. I learned that after a few attempts to find a way to save at least the façade of this structure, it became clear to the architects involved that a full demolition and rebuild would be necessary. Chester C. Corbin Public Library will be disassembled at the end of this summer. I felt a huge surge of nostalgia upon hearing this news, and immediately began stalking its corners during my visit, documenting as much as my cell phone could capture.
Chester Corbin was a Webster resident, and noted industrialist in the New England shoe manufacturing world. He established a “library system” for the town in 1867. His wife Augusta eventually bequeathed funds that allowed for the construction (c.1921) of the building that I came to know as a trusted source of inspiration throughout all my grade school years. It was my sanctuary and private clubhouse. It had a perfect balance of solitude, sushy-ness, and a sense of community. When I needed to feel important, in a fourth grade sort of way, I rode my bike there seeking… who knows what. I treated it like my studio, even before I knew of such a concept. When I was very young, I was impressed that the tables in the children’s reading room were precisely my size. It was cool and dim, and there was a glass vitrine in the hallway that had, on permanent display, a collection of tarantula spiders housed under heavy glass orbs. It was here that I was introduced to Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and the intricacies of constructing gimp lanyards. The librarian, Miss Morse, was one of the most gracious grown ups that I knew. What more could I possibly want? My library card was A Very Important Thing.
During this last visit, I captured an image of the Library Director’s Office, and upon getting this shot, I immediately remembered how captivated I was by every corner of this building…
I was lucky enough to chat a bit with the current library director, Amanda Grenier, the day I visited, knowing it would be my last time inside this personal landmark. She shared with me that the library had become much more of a community space over the years, and that although it still is very much a place to borrow books, it functions now much more as a gathering space. Patrons come to the library to learn how to paint, and to hear authors speak. Young patrons come to play games (I noted a few gamers firmly planted in front of a computer monitor during my visit). There is a Lego Club. Amanda shared that many residents visit seeking computer access, or simply because they need a quiet place to study. She shared that staff frequently help visitors with job applications and resumes.
An issue that reaches beyond the obvious blemishes of the building’s frayed edges, is lack of space. Some programs at the library are “standing room only,” which ultimately means patrons are turned away. The new library will have a 120-seat community meeting space. Additional computers will free up the typical half hour wait to get on line. The new library will also have individual study rooms and a Young Adult Reading Room.
These are all needs I’ve come to learn about first hand, while serving as a Board member at my own public library in Croton on Hudson, and as a super fan of the New York Public Library System, which is beyond extraordinary. Structures, things, equipment….In a library, shelf life is literal.
Thank you, Chester and Augusta Corbin. My wish is that your vision will, for many, many more decades to come, continue to speak volumes.