BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN
Maplewood Community Library gets so busy that staff members sometimes have to clear the building, either because the fire code has been exceeded or just because they need to settle things down.
“It’s not a situation where there are any problems going on,” says Rochester Library Director Patty Uttaro. “It’s just because it’s such a small space, and we get so many kids and young adults in there. It can sometimes get loud and very, very crowded.”
The door count at Maplewood from January through April was 72,761, compared to 37,000 at the Winton Branch and 36,000 at Lincoln. Most of the other branch libraries were in the 20,000 range. All of the branch libraries are between 6,000 and 12,000 square feet in size, Uttaro says.
“Maplewood is our busiest library, visit for visit,” she says. “It’s really quite amazing what they see over there.”
Maplewood, which is on Dewey Avenue, is also a busy library for GED and English as a Second Language programs.
“The branch manager, Shelley Matthews, has a waiting list for all of those programs because she can only accommodate about 10 to 12 people at a time there,” Uttaro says.
Bill Collins, head of the Maplewood Neighborhood Association, says use of the library has grown gradually, and is largely due to an influx of refugees into the neighborhood. In addition to English classes, the Maplewood library offers projects and activities to help refugees’ children acclimate to their new home.
The library has been on the hunt for a new building, but so far is coming up short. Although time isn’t necessarily critical, the current building does have maintenance issues related to the library’s heavy volume of traffic. The foundation has shifted, Uttaro says, there’s an “enormous” crack in one of the walls, a door doesn’t close properly, and there are other problems.
“As much as we’re trying to stay ahead of it, it’s real tough,” she says. “It’s almost fighting a losing battle because of the daily use we get there.”
Uttaro says she’d like the new library to have a minimum of 14,000 square feet, all on one floor, because adding a floor means having to double the staff. Officials have so far checked out a church, an old fire house, and an abandoned nursing home, but none fit the bill, Uttaro says. Another possibility is to build a new library on the site of the current building, but that would most likely require the purchase of additional land, Uttaro says.
There is also the possibility of renting additional space, she says.
Maplewood Association President Collins says the most important thing is that the library stay centrally located in the neighborhood and not be pushed to the periphery. Many of the library’s users walk to the site, Uttaro says.
While the search continues for a long-term solution, library officials are looking for space to hold children’s programming this summer, and they’re adding patio space on the north side of the building for seasonal programming.