Over the past several years, the town of Hopkinton has begun the process of applying for a Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners' (MBLC) grant to expand their 1895-1898 public library. However after the design of the new building was revealed, it was clear that yet again, another historic public library building in Massachusetts was being sacrificed in the name of meeting the MBLC's rigid space requirements.
Before 1990, if a municipality in Massachusetts wanted to expand their public library, they had to apply to the state legislature for funds. Although this process was highly unregulated, it allowed cities and towns to build to suit their needs. After 1990, the MBLC took over the process, converting it to a grant format. Municipalities apply to the MBLC for funds to build a new library or expand their current one. The amount of money a community receives is based on their 20-year population estimate. The MBLC has a number of different space requirements the new deign must meet, such as the number of seats for certain activities and the kinds of rooms libraries should have. While this has standardized the process statewide, it also has created a number of outsized additions to historic library buildings, which are numerous in Massachusetts.
In the 19th century, Massachusetts was at the forefront of the public library movement. Beginning in the early part of the century as private lending libraries or subscription libraries, public libraries began to appear in Massachusetts by mid-century. These small libraries were a source of pride for a community. They were a unique feature that towns could advertise to investors, in the hopes of attracting industry at a time when Massachusetts was growing rapidly. Libraries were also a sign of an educated workforce, another selling point for towns. And in a time of political turmoil, libraries were seen as a way to democratize the general public, as a place to educate them on current events and issues in the hopes of preventing the spread of radical ideas.
In the beginning, many early public libraries were housed in a building dedicated to another use, such as a store, school, or church. But as they became more and more popular, communities began to construct dedicated library buildings. These small buildings can be found throughout Massachusetts. They were often constructed of brick or stone, and located in a conspicuous place, usually on the town's common. Often, a wealthy resident of the town provided the catalyst for building a library. They often donated the land for the building, funds for the building, or a collection of books.
The construction of Hopkinton's public library was spurred forward by a monetary donation from a former resident, John Quincy Adams of Illinois. The land for the building was donated by Sarah Whitin, the granddaughter of Col. Joseph Valentine. Plans for the building were donated by Sanford Phipps, a Hopkinton resident and partner in the Boston architectural firm of Loring and Phipps. Construction progressed quickly through 1894, and the stone Romanesque Revival building was dedicated on January 1, 1895.
Around the same time, on the plot of land to the east of the library (also donated by Sarah Whitin), Hopkinton's Episcopal community was raising a new church. The 1898 stone Gothic Revival church was designed by the Rev. Hermon Gaylord Wood. Wood was very active in the Epsicopalian ministry and community in Massachusetts at the end of the 19th century. Although he was not a trained architect, he designed a number of church buildings throughout Massachusetts. At the present time, thirteen churches have proven to be the work of Rev. Wood. When the Episcopalian congregation outgrew their church around mid-century, they decided to donate it to the library next door, which was in need of more space. In 1967, the two buildings were connected by a single-story hyphen, greatly expanding the library's space. However, the library has not been expanded any further, even thought the town's population has grown rapidly, especially in the last few decades.
It is easily seen that the current Hopkinton Public Library is too small to serve the town’s needs. When the building opened in 1895, the town’s population was 2,984; at the most recent census in 2010, Hopkinton had 14,925 residents. The current library has few of the features that make a modern public library successful in small Massachusetts towns. There is no dedicated meeting space or community room, the children’s room is very small with no space for young adults, and there is very little in the way of modern technology access. There are also few ways to modify the interiors of the two historic buildings to make room for new spaces. However, pursing MBLC money to fund the expansion of the library has forced the town to design a building that is too large for the lot and the surrounding neighborhood. The town should consider other design alternatives that take into account the historic building and streetscape in addition to meeting the needs of a modern library. This could mean forging ahead with the library project without making use of state funding, as the town of Concord did several years ago.
Concord chose to expand their historic library without the use of MBLC funds, instead raising the needed funds through a private capital campaign. Before beginning construction in 2003, Concord’s private Library Corporation raised the necessary $7.6 million to complete an addition to the town’s 1873 public library. The building’s history included several other additions, which had expanded and altered the historic building, but the main historic section was still largely intact. Using private funding rather than state funding, the library was able to create an addition that “focused more on the redesign and efficient use of existing space than on expansion.” The town was able to build a library that suits their needs now and in the future, without extras and additions mandated by the state that may not be necessary for the town. The library was able to gain needed new space,
integrated systems, air conditioning, new elevators, a variety of safety features, and wireless Internet access were installed, and the building brought up to code. The charging and work areas for Circulation were revamped, the Special Collections reading room significantly expanded and tastefully appointed, and new periodical and young adult areas created. Great care was exercised through all of this to protect and showcase the remaining architectural features of the original library building (the octagonal lobby) and of the renovation of the 1930s (the Reference, Trustees’, and Thoreau Rooms). Source
J. Stewart Roberts & Associates designed the Concord addition. They were the predecessor firm to Johnson Roberts Associates, Inc., who did the designs for the proposed Hopkinton Public Library addition. Their design has given Concord a modern public library that serves the needs of its current patrons while maintaining its historic fabric.
A major difficulty with expanding the current Hopkinton Public Library building is the site itself. Siting is an important factor in how successful a historic library addition ultimately is. Hopkinton Public Library is on a small corner lot, surrounded by few tall buildings. The streetscape of Main Street around the library is nearly uniform at two stories, with Town Hall one of the few buildings rising above that. The buildings are generally of a smaller size, on small lots. The north side of the street has commercial style buildings that are boxier and placed close to the street, taking up most of their lots. However the south side of the street where the library is located is mostly residential buildings set further back from the street on the center of their lots, with grass (or pavement) visible on all four sides of the buildings. The new library building would extend up Church Street, a residential street composed of historic single-family houses. Like the houses surrounding the library on Main Street, the buildings on Church Street are set back from the street and centered on their lots. The plan for the library calls for demolishing a historic house on Church Street and replacing it with a parking lot. The site constraints are one of the biggest hurdles with expanding the Hopkinton Public Library, but they are not helped by the requirements imposed by the MBLC that necessitate a large building.
In May of 2014, Hopkinton’s Annual Town Meeting passed a motion allocating over $7 million in town funds for the expansion of the library. A resident made a motion to use only this money to renovate the library, rather than accepting the MBLC grant to bring the total to over $11 million; the motion was denied. The $7 million the town is spending is comparable to what Concord recently spent to update and expand their library, fixing many of the same issues that Hopkinton currently has. Hopkinton could choose to spend only town money on the project, allowing the town to have greater control over the final design aspects of the library. This would likely lead to a smaller building that still provides for the town’s needs, and fits better onto the lot and into the town’s established streetscape. While the MBLC money is considered by library proponents to be “free” money, it comes at the cost of damaging two beloved Hopkinton landmarks, and forever altering the town’s small-scale, residential streetscape.
This post was edited together from information gathered during my Master's project, entitled "Expanding 'A Library Building for Library Work:' Additions to Historic Libraries in Massachusetts Since 1990," which I recently adapted into a report for the Hopkinton Historical Commission which specifically dealt with the Hopkinton Public Library's proposed addition.