Sophomore Akilan Murugesan, senior Charlie Johnson, junior Chien Ho, senior Troy Hoddick and juniors Erin Reddy and Dominic Stephen study and socialize in the new Matthews Library armchairs. (Photo by Cissy Shi)"
Early in 2013, headmaster Stephen Repsher approached librarian Joanne Melinson about possible renovations for the Matthews Library.
“Are we talking paint and carpeting here?” Melinson asked.
“No, I want you to think bigger,” Repsher replied.
And she certainly did.
Over the summer, the library received a complete overhaul, costing approximately $200,000. Carpet was pulled out; walls were torn down. Early in the summer, the library had become nothing but a shell.
But from the hollow shell came a newer, sleeker building featuring much larger windows, a reorganized, more open layout, a higher ceiling, a seating area with new armchairs and even a new back entrance.
“We wanted to create more open space and reduce the impact of the office and study room by opening up the library,” Repsher said.
“We also wanted to modernize the facility by providing more window openings to bring in more natural light.”
But why make that change now?
“That was easy,” Repsher said. “The library was built almost 30 years ago and had not undergone any significant restoration since that time.”
Repsher said he started talking about the change early last year with the Buildings and Grounds Committee and, with input from Melinson and Jay Holman, director of the physical plant, started working with architect Louis Kaufman to design the new building.
Kaufman, parent of seventh grader Lia and eighth grader Theo, was brought in by Repsher to remodel the library and make it fit with the rest of the high school thematically.
Kaufman said the old layout was inefficient, dark and “chopped up” and aimed to “take the same amount of space and reorganize it to make it more streamlined.”
He chose to install many large windows to bring in natural lighting and connect the library with the “adjacent campus open spaces” so it wouldn’t be so enclosed.
Kaufman also chose a hardwood ceiling instead of the panelled, sound-reducing one to “accent the central working and reading area and thematically tie the library to the lower-school library.”
“We were aware that the library today is more of a social space than a purely working and study place, so the noise levels are not as critical as they were 10-20 years ago,” he said.
But the remodeling isn’t complete yet.
Two more long rows of bookshelves, as well as shelving units that will go beneath some of the windows, have yet to arrive.
New lighting was just installed, Sept. 18, and possible window shading is being considered. The Chromebooks, although still available for checkout, no longer have their own tables in the library.
But the new modern, space-efficient design came with a price: roughly 2500 books had to be removed from the library, and Melinson expects to get rid of another 1000, putting the remaining collection between 13,000 and 13,500.
“It’s pretty typical to heavily weed a library before you move or before you remodel because you want to have only the best stuff on the shelves,” Melinson said.
“Also, weeding is something you need to do routinely, and we had fallen out of the routine because we had a lot of things going on.”
To choose which books to discard, Melinson mainly looked for those that did not support the curriculum or were not needed in print.
Melinson got rid of a lot of reference books in particular, since many had e-book versions or online equivalents.
She also weeded out books with low circulation or books that she thought wouldn’t be popular.
“You can tell just by looking that a lot of them are outdated and wouldn’t appeal to the kids,” Melinson said.
As a librarian and book-lover, it was at first difficult for Melinson to get rid of so many.
“Maybe it’s sentimental reasons that it’s so hard in the beginning,” Melinson said. “But once you pull all the stuff off the shelves that is no longer relevant, you really see the books that are.”
Some books were given away to students and staff, some were left for Breakthrough and the rest were donated to the public library.
“You know that those books have a good chance at going to a really good home,” Melinson said. “If we really were just throwing them all away, I think that would be hard.”
As the discarded books find new homes, Melinson continues to gradually add to the collection. And students can enjoy the natural lighting and the lounge seating made possible by the books’ sacrifice.