After being elected as a library trustee, Olivia Johnson has dedicated herself to reviving the Taylor Memorial Library.
HANCOCK, Mass. — Olivia Johnson loves the role libraries play in a community.
She went to her local library, the Taylor Memorial Library on Main Street, opened the doors and it was musty. The 1925 building retained moisture. The books on the shelves were breaking apart. They were disheveled. And most of them dated back to the 1950s or before.
There wasn't much of a catalog and what was there was out of order or mislabeled. She spun the globe that sat on one of the tables and when it came to a rest, she saw the U.S.S.R.
"I believe if you want to see change, you have to be part of change," Johnson said.
Johnson was elected as a library trustee two years ago and has set her mind to revamping the Taylor Memorial Library. She found volunteers, revitalized the collection, updated the cataloging, organized the space, and last month held a grand re-opening, with expanded hours and expanded collection.
"It was daunting when you look at a considerably aged collection, the majority of which were 1950s and earlier. It did feel overwhelming especially when we are only here two hours a week. We didn't see people coming through the door. It was, 'where do we start?'" Johnson said.
For the first year of being a trustee, she saw about 10 different people come through the library, which was only opened for two hours a week. She believed that many in town didn't even know it existed. So she started making the presence known.
"We didn't have a Facebook, free marketing. We didn't have a website, free marketing. We just didn't have visibility in any way," Johnson said, and now the library has both.
She wanted a road sign indicated the library's location and started looking up prices but wasn't sure how she'd pay for it out of the $5,875 annual budget.
She emailed the state Department of Transportation asking how to go about doing it. The department said it would put it up for free. Five days later, a sign was installed on Route 43 directing drivers where to go.
"It is amazing to me. I didn't know what I needed to do. I researched how much it would cost. We have such a meager budget, how was I going to afford signs?" Johnson said. "It may not seem like much but to me that was astounding."
She shared her vision with others and ultimately got connected with Williams College. The college was tearing down the building that housed the math and science library and offered her the shelving units. She rallied four volunteers to disassemble and then reassemble the units in Hancock.
And then started the dreaded process of weeding the collection. She had made connections with a number of volunteers and librarians from all over Berkshire County and Pownal, Vt., and Stephentown, N.Y., and together they launched on a process to properly label and organize the collection. The owner of Down in Denver Bookstore pitched in her time.
"We weeded, which is a very normal and natural protocol for libraries but it hadn't been done. It is a daunting process when you don't know where to start. We started and then kept going and going and going," Johnson said.
The collection is now organized and neatly lined up on the new shelves. The next step was to update it and bring in new books. Friends groups from a number of libraries offered a number of materials from books to DVDs to audiobooks.
"They use the book sales to raise money for themselves so for them to be willing to do this for us is admirable," Johnson said.
When a nearby bookseller went out of business, Johnson was able to get a lot of new books at an inexpensive price to add to the collection. And then the work of cataloging continued as the new books were organized and added to the shelves.
"We took a collection that was incredibly dated and we updated it. We didn't want to get rid of everything so if the book was in good enough shape, we kept it," Johnson said.
But because so few patrons had been coming in, Johnson doesn't know exactly what they would want.
"You want to make sure what you are purchasing is what people want. If you don't have people coming through the door, you don't know what that is. So you have to run the gambit," Johnson said.
Sears donated a dehumidifier to keep the materials from getting musty, someone else donated new smoke detectors. Some new furniture was donated and lots of volunteer time cleaning the space was given.
Williams College donated a pull-down movie projector and Brain Spiral is donating a projector. The DVD collection went from just a few to two shelving units. The audios went from three to too many to keep them all on the shelves at once. The top of the shelves displays books from 2017.
On Halloween, they opened the library up to show it to the community and 128 people, in a town of only 720, came through the doors to see the newly revamped library.
"We needed a new collection to bring people through the door and then hours that people could come," Johnson said.
The small reader's library was only open on Saturdays from 11 until 1. But now, it is opened on Monday and Thursday from 2 to 6 and on Saturday from noon until 2. On Jan. 22, the library kicked off those new hours.
"In the last week we have issued 20 library cards. We have more than 35 items checked out to more than 20 people, which is amazing when you factor in that for the first year and a half I was here I didn't see 10 different people," Johnson said.
"It has been heartwarming to see the need, want, and willingness to have a library in town is there."
One person was surprised to see the library is now carrying James Patterson books. Patterson is likely the most known modern author of dozens of books. Johnson said that reaction is a reflection of how people previously viewed the Taylor Memorial Library.
The town has had a library since 1887, three years before the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners was formed.
"We actually had a library in this tiny little town before even that. In 1925, upon Jane Taylor's passing she left a request for this stand-alone library," Johnson said.
The new building was constructed in 1925 and the library moved from the basement of Town Hall. But as the years passed, it had become nearly forgotten. And Johnson is now hoping to bring new life to it.
"I think oftentimes our sense of community gets lost. We are in a unique area where community is everything. This community has always rallied for the things that mattered once they knew that the need was there," Johnson said.
The library hadn't received a brand new book in a decade.
"We're going to see if we build it, will they come? And so far it is working."
Next on her agenda is to become certified by the state, which would bring additional dollars to support the library. She has meetings scheduled and is bringing a budget to the Board of Selectmen that will allow for 20 percent of the town's appropriation be spent on new materials -- a condition to meet state certification standards.
Johnson said the effort is all on a tight budget. The annual budget of just under $6,000 has to pay for utilities, payroll, buildings and grounds maintenance and the new media.
Johnson says such things as purchasing franchising rights to host movie nights are made easier because of the generous donations other have made.
"We're just constantly working toward better. I think that is all you can ask. Don't expect perfection but strive for it," Johnson said.
She also has ideas for new programs. She's talked with the school about ideas, looking to organize a magic lesson for children and to have arts and crafts. She is talking about knitting groups and a new program to deliver materials to people who are shut in.
"I'm hoping going forward each week we can offer something," Johnson said.
She believes that the library can live up to today's expectations. But, she knows it is going to take a lot of hours and a lot of work. She is willing to put that time and effort in and she believes that people will support it.
"It is up to us to save it. It is up to us to value it. It is here, it is ours, we should appreciate it and we should be thankful for it," Johnson said. "I did what you do when you love something, you fight for it."
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue; please keep comments focused on the issues and not on personalities. Profanity, obscenity, racist language and harassment are not allowed. iBerkshires reserves the right to ban commenters or remove commenting on any article at any time. Concerns may be sent to email@example.com.
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue. Name-calling, personal attacks, libel, slander or foul language is not allowed. All comments are reviewed before posting and will be deleted or edited as necessary.
We show up at hurricanes, budget meetings, high school games, accidents, fires and community events. We show up at celebrations and tragedies and everything in between. We show up so our readers can learn about pivotal events that affect their communities and their lives.
How important is local news to you? You can support independent, unbiased journalism and help iBerkshires grow for as a little as the cost of a cup of coffee a week.