Community input on new library speaks volumes
Photo by Ashley Ahearn
Kelli Rotstan, left, and Sarah Joy Steele, far right, jotted down ideas for the new Winthrop public library at a community workshop last weekend.
Residents’ ‘hopes and dreams’ sought for Winthrop project
BY ASHLEY AHEARN
On a snowy Sunday afternoon, more than 50 people attended a meeting to share their hopes and dreams for Winthrop’s future public library.
The Winthrop Barn was set up with tables covered in rolls of paper and markers for people to brainstorm, write notes and generally provide the foundational creative juices for the design of the new library. The community gathering was hosted by Friends of the Winthrop Library (FOWL), the nonprofit group that is spearheading the effort to build a new library.
The Town of Winthrop recently agreed to purchase a plot of land next to Little Star Montessori School on White Avenue, paving the way for FOWL’s planning and fundraising efforts to kick into high gear. The inaugural community brainstorming session marked the first step in a design, planning and construction process that could take more than two years to complete.
Ray Johnston, a Seattle architect who owns a home outside of Twisp, has been helping in the early stages of the design process and kicked off the meeting with a presentation about library design trends. Johnston’s firm has designed more than 30 libraries since 1985, including Seattle’s Capitol Hill and South Park branches, as well as the libraries for smaller towns such as Duvall and Maple Valley in King County.
He said that more recently, his clients have been drawn to designs that promote collaborative activity, minimalize noise, provide performance and display space as well as cozy reading nooks. There’s also been a resurgence in using “nature as teacher,” he said, and incorporating the natural world and indoor-outdoor space into library designs.
“You need to find ways to create spaces that are comfortable for people to learn … Libraries are becoming more of a place of community and family, a collaborative learning environment,” Johnston said.
Meeting new demands
Five or 10 years ago there was talk that libraries were becoming obsolete, as Barnes & Noble and other bookstore chains took over the market. Now, Johnston says that libraries must meet 21st-century digital demands, right alongside the hardbound page-turning tradition. Gone are the days of the “shushing” stern librarian enforcer. Now librarians are seen as navigators and guides.
Johnston described libraries as an “evolutionary hub” in the community for people to gather and learn new skills, “a place where everyone in a region or culture can come and partake in the ways that culture is evolving and changing and working with technology and other tools.”
After Johnston’s talk, attendees moved over to the picnic table area and began scrawling ideas, drawing pictures and sharing ideas with one another.
“There are no wrong answers today,” said Rachel Macmorran, a member of the board of FOWL. “This is about hopes and dreams. You don’t have to think about parking stall numbers or budgets, it’s more of what your heart wants today. We’ll get practical later, today is for fun.”
Kelli Rotstan and Sarah Joy Steele sat at a table holding markers.
“I want to see a park or splash pad or awesome jungle gym for kids to climb on,” Rotstan said.
“I like the idea of having Jamie’s Place [the adult family home in Winthrop] and Little Star and the skating rink side-by-side,” Steele said. “That’s what people dream about — that walkable list of things to do, and making that list bigger and better for this community.”
Lots of ideas
On the large rolls of paper, other attendees wrote comments:
• “Provide small rooms to provide lessons in art, music or dance.”
• “Intergenerational programs for Jamie’s place — possibly buddy system with teens — letting kids understand that demented adults are still “in there” and do better with interaction. Win-Win for all!!”
• “Charging stations for electric cars and for personal computers etc.!”
• “Desks and whiteboards, giant pillows, a maker space with materials and tools and a 3D printer.”
• “Smoke-free for fire season and access to water sources when the electricity is out”
• “Shaded outdoor space and a cafe.”
FOWL has not officially hired an architect, though Johnston has been helping with the early stages of the design and said he’d like the job.
“I think there’s so much excitement and so much demand and that’s a great combination. All the ingredients are here,” Johnston said. “It’ll be interesting to gather all these comments because I think we’ll find similarities with other communities but with focuses that are distinctive for Winthrop.”
“It’s Winthrop’s library in one sense but it’s for the whole valley, as well. I would hope that anybody who has ideas gets in touch and gets on record with what they’re thinking and add to the energy that’s developing here,” Johnston added.