Uphams Corner residents want modern, arts-focused library

Kit Binns presents his small group's ideas to a gathering at the Kroc Center in Uphams Corner. Jennifer Smith photo

Though the current Uphams Corner library branch has served the community for more than a century in a section of the Municipal Building at the corner of Columbia Road and Bird Street, the city says it is time for an upgrade.

At a well-attended meeting in the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center last week, Uphams Corner residents laid out a wish list for their new library as part of the Uphams Corner Implementation Plan, which is working to guide new investment across the village.

Those in the room largely agreed on an overall vision: a warm, welcoming building; some sort of green component, possibly an interior courtyard or roof garden; areas for educating young people and elders alike in technology and computer skills; and some sort of tie-in to the nearby Strand Theater through arts programming and practice space and display areas for local art.

A few features of the existing library, according to Boston Public Library President David Leonard: a “small but strong collection in African American Fiction,” children’s programs that are “well-attended and well-used,” and offering access to computers and the Internet, which are a “necessity to participating in civic life today.”

Opened in 1899, the Uphams Corner branch has been at its current location since 1904. The only other library that has been in the same place for that amount of time is the Central Branch by Copley, Leonard said.

It is, however, about the smallest branch in the BPL system — just 6,500 square feet and minuscule when compared to the 27,000-square foot Dudley Square branch about to begin renovations. Leonard said the city is aiming for an Uphams Corner branch between 10,000 and 20,000 square feet.

An $18 million library branch is planned for two parcels making up about a 8,251 square feet, on a prominent Uphams Corner site, including an early 20th century bank building and an adjacent parking lot.

“We want to have a resource that is available to all residents and all those who live, work, and go to school in every neighborhood,” Leonard said. “So as we think about the library, we want to think about how do we build a system, build a place, build a context where everybody feels welcome, where everybody is able to participate in the services that they need.”

In a small breakout group moderated by Harry Smith, director of sustainable economic development with the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, participant Bob Haas noted that the Columbia Road stretch is “not a very friendly space,” making the case for an enclosed courtyard. Nicole Chandler, who works at Age-Friendly Boston, suggested a space where older adults could learn skills that would assist them in finding jobs or seeking out volunteer work. Even small details like outlets and central charging stations would make the space a better fit for modern users, others said.

Kit Binns, with the Dorchester Historical Society, said they liked the idea of an “emotionally warm space, something like the new renovated portion of the downtown library… warm, but proud and monumental.”

Boston Public Libraries already fit in the intersection of education, culture, and community, Leonard said. Current library design now works to reflect that.

Books are still the centerpiece, he said, whether they be on paper or in electronic form, but the library spaces are “as much places of creation as they are consuming information.”

Some attendees suggested focus groups with different demographics, like parents or high school students, to ensure discussions include library users who may not make it to weekday evening meetings. A model library and comment box is in place at the current library for residents to submit more suggestions.

An Uphams Corner Implementation Plan meeting is scheduled for Nov. 30 regarding the Strand Theater.