60 Bridge St. * 413-625-0306 * Housed in the historic Pratt Memorial Library Building since 1914

COVID-19 Hours

  • Monday 10 am–5 pm
  • Wednesday 10 am–5 pm
  • Saturday 10 am–3 pm

COVID-19 Hours

  • Monday 10 am–5 pm
  • Wednesday 10 am–5 pm
  • Saturday 10 am–3 pm


Library Voices…Getting Ready…Change and History

I am writing this blog post amid the familiar sounds of a summer Saturday afternoon at the library. Fans are whirring and there is a steady thump, beep, thump of books, magazines and movies being scanned and taken out, scanned and checked in. The squeak of the curved glass door announces people as they come and go. An animated conversation among several families, parents of teenagers, flows freely in the warm, humid air, and laughter bounces around the front desk and Reading Room from the Children’s Room.

Next year at this time the spaces and energies here will be very different, with all adult fiction upstairs, our children’s space downstairs, and an entirely new young adult area. The air will be more comfortable, too, thanks to our new heating and air conditioning system. All of our spaces will be repaired, patched, and painted. And don’t forget the new energy-efficient windows, modern electric system, and up-to-date technology! All of this is slated to happen during the library’s renovation this fall.

The Arms Library Board of Trustees, Pratt Memorial Library Building Committee, the Town, and our architects are engaged in respectful rehabilitation. The Pratt Building, an iconic historic building built for the library in 1914, has been preserved, its roof and foundation made solid, so it can continue to provide a home for the Arms Library. With the exterior intact thanks to our roof repair in 2015, this coming renovation will bring our inside operations into the 21st century, so we can truly provide our community with up-to-date library services.

So, change is on my mind. This internal renovation is much more extensive and complex than the roof repair. So many moving parts! Besides the actual decision-making (many thanks to the various committees and townspeople tackling those complexities), how does one record what is, before it is not? What are the details of a place in time that we should carry forward, and why? What makes the details important? I have more questions than answers right now.

The last time I did a serious bout of writing was twelve years ago for my thesis at Mount Holyoke College. (I had gone back to school as a Frances Perkins Scholar.) Then, I was writing about the intersections of landscape, place and voice, and human spirit. I hoped to become a writer who, protesting by looking at place, witnessing and describing what I had witnessed, might help to make the world a better place. I’m rusty. It’s been a while. If you continue reading this, please bear with me.

Now seems a good time to pick up writing again, not in protest, but this time as a way to chronicle our library’s changes. By writing what I see now, what we are seeing before and during the upcoming renovation, a trail can, maybe, be left for future generations. At the very least, with this blog, I would like to share what is happening with any current interested audience—including, of course, occasional photographs.

Every time we make an improvement, we are forced to look at past uses and needs. A person who is looking and paying attention to the clues might gain a sense of that time’s thinking. Every time you touch a building you are delving into its past, even as you refashion it to meet the needs of its current and future users.

We’re heading into a renovation that will again alter the library’s landscape. In the last renovation, in 2001, the building was made handicap accessible. An entirely new viable lower level was created out of the large, dark storage basement, with room for adult fiction and the Kirby Langford Meeting Room. Graceful new curving stairs were built, connecting the lower and upper levels of the building, brightened by wide swatches of light, and an elevator installed, making the main level of the building accessible to all.

The paint on the walls of some of the library’s rooms provides an actual example of new layered over old. Local artist Fred Burrington has spotted old raised layers of decorative paint underneath more recent painting in the Reading Room, the current Children’s Room, and the domed rotunda. In these instances the old paint was covered over. There is one rectangular spot, showing beige, brown and light green, left unpainted by the Reading Room fireplace. It is a dream of mine to have one or two of the other patches singled out and highlighted to preserve what was in place before now.

Progress in our building is like those layers of paint. The current need for what is new and most useful is painted over that which has historically served; and it will itself serve as a layer of new history. A new coat of paint sharpens and brightens the present but may lessen or hide the details of the past.

Decisions had to be made each time the building has been altered, repainted, updated, or reorganized. Everything we do is a trade-off. To grow, some things will need to be let go.

Starting in 1914, when the Pratt Building was built, every part of this building was created in response to a need of the era’s inhabitants. The Arms Library Association itself was began in 1854 when Ira Arms and like-minded individuals perceived the need to begin a second library in town in addition to the Shelburne Free Public Library.

People and institutions, we will all keep changing. Our library will continue to grow as a living, breathing cultural institution, a space where people may change and flourish.

In the meantime, I have a request for you. Please consider looking for old, or even not-so-old, photos of the Arms Library. Whether of the outside, or of programs you or your children attended, or of library activities in a bygone era, we’d love to see them or have copies of them. It would be great to have these clues to our past!

In my next blog post…

I am curious about mysteries in the Arms Library’s history. What clues get left behind? What happened to the urn that used to be on top of the roof? Who created the Reading Room murals? What was on the walls? Painted on the dome? What else looked different? Are there photographs? How far back?