Winthrop’s new library will be different than what we’re used to, and not just because it’s so much larger than the repurposed little building on Highway 20 that it will replace.
From the beginning — and that was several years ago now — Friends of the Winthrop Library (FOWL) conceived of the new space as a traditional but maximally modern library that also functioned as a community gathering spot for all kinds of possibilities.
Some who have been following the library’s progress, and all the ideas that have been thrown out there for its use, might observe that what’s emerging is a community center that happens to have a lot of books and other stuff to check out.
Indeed, the range of uses and activities that will be possible — and encouraged — is impressive, intended for all ages and interests. Including a community meeting space that can be accessed separately when the main library is closed, and divided so that two groups can use it simultaneously, was brilliant. That kind of availability is relatively scarce in the valley.
But at its heart, the new space is fundamentally a library — a repository of information or access to it, a place for exploration, a source of inspiration, a connection point where learning, growing and meaningfully interacting with other human beings are all part of the expectations.
The new space is inviting — high-ceilinged, open, with lots of light from several directions. There’s even a fireplace. It will be divided into several activity areas with comfortable seating, but without big dividers to discourage movement. Even the book stacks will be mobile, so that they can moved to create more space on the main floor. Local artwork will be celebrated and abundant.
Some people appreciate libraries as a place to just sit and do nothing but read or work on a computer. Perfect. Others will find that this new library is also a place to do something requiring more effort and engagement. Good reason to get out of the house. A fairly modern concept for libraries is to think of them as your “third place,” beyond home and work, where your interests might come first.
The new library’s potential doesn’t start or stop at the entry doors. The outdoor spaces and landscaping are being planned with utility in mind as well. It’s conveniently located close to recreation trails, Little Star School, Jamie’s Place, the Winthrop Rink, Homestream Park and Methow Trails’ new headquarters site. The library is well-situated for full integration into its surrounding community.
Transitions are coming as construction nears completion. FOWL, the remarkably ambitious nonprofit that is behind the library’s concept and construction, will turn the building over the Town of Winthrop, while NCW Libraries will operate the facilities. FOWL won’t go away. The organization’s leaders are now contemplating what it’s future role might be once the library is open and functioning. I expect they will need a break from years of nonstop planning, community surveys and fundraising, but we’ll hear from them again I’m sure.
I know the Winthrop library is getting all the hoopla right now and like many others I can’t wait for the grand opening — but our little library in the Methow Valley Community Center will continue to be my favorite “third place” in Twisp. Everyone there is friendly and helpful, they probably will know you and your kids and dogs by your first names, and I always feel a bit calmer just wandering around waiting for something to catch my eye. Something always does. That’s the beauty of a library: everything there can yours for a while, and the experience of that book or DVD or online engagement is lasting.
It’s hard to overemphasize what a bargain the new library is for Winthrop and all of the Methow Valley. All of this will cost local taxpayers and library users exactly zero dollars more than they may already be paying in property taxes as residents of the library district. I saw a comment somewhere recently about whether it would even be possible these days to advance the notion of a free public library system in this country if one did not already exist. Thank you, Benjamin Franklin, for heading off that culture war and creating such a powerful, enduring institution — one that, as the new Winthrop library demonstrates, can continue to evolve.