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Middletown Life

A big library – at last! – for MOT

Apr 09, 2021 12:20PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Ken Mammarella
Contributing Writer

When the 27,500-square-foot library at 244 E. Main St. in Middletown opens next March, it will have a multimedia production studio, a memory lab, a makerspace, meeting rooms and study rooms.

Yes, the $27 million Southern New Castle County Library will have more books and other types of media to check out, but these other features represent the changing nature of libraries nationwide.

“You can’t judge a library by its books,” New Castle County Councilman David Carter said. “Our libraries do so much more. It becomes our creative commons.”

The facility has been a long time coming. “People have been advocating and planning for this for at least 25 years,” said Kevin Swed, the library’s manager. “It’s almost in the heart of downtown.”

It’s hoped that the library will also be the heart of the community. New Castle County is “planting seeds of hope, inspiration and dreams and building community,” said Susan Kemer, president of the Friends of the Southern New Castle Library.

“Libraries have gradually taken on new functions and new roles,” State Sen. Stephanie Hansen said. “Now they’re more than a place where you go and get books. There’s someone there that’s going to help you with all sorts of [things], perhaps social services issues, housing issues, employment issues. They’ve become really information hubs.”

That was then

The first library in Middletown opened in 1901, as a grassroots effort led by the Middletown New Century Club. Its Main Street building burned down in 1922, and the next incarnation was a station library serviced by bookmobiles. In 1963, the library became a school district library and moved into an old school on North Broad Street, now the home of the Middletown Historical Society.

In 1994, the Appoquinimink Public Library became part of the county system. In 1997, it moved into the new Middletown High School on Silver Lake Road, serving the school and the community.

The library outgrew that arrangement and in 2009 moved into rented space at 651 N. Broad Street as leaders of the county and the state’s library system continued to contemplate how – and where – to best serve the exploding growth in the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend area.

When the new location was announced in 2018, Marcus Henry, general manager of the county Department of Community Services, said they looked at a dozen potential sites across MOT.

Their choice was downtown Middletown, next to Silver Lake Elementary and just north of Silver Lake Park, on an eight-acre site that can accommodate expansion. It’s within walking distance of all the previous locations, and the choice fits nicely into the modern mantra of nurturing communities where people can live, work and play without getting into a motor vehicle.

This is now

The new library is about three times larger than the current facility and about 10 percent larger than the Bear Library. The Southern and Bear libraries are considered regional libraries in the county system.

About half of the building will house familiar library services, Swed said, and there’s room to expand to 40,000 square feet. Features have evolved during the planning. Here’s a look at the latest.

The multimedia production studio will be a first for Delaware’s three dozen public libraries. It will feature one studio for video production, with a green screen and other equipment. Another studio will be outfitted for audio production, with a piano and other equipment.

The memory lab will include equipment to digitize photos and, possibly, VHS tapes and film.

The makerspace, modeled on the Route 9 Library and Innovation Center, will include 3D printers, routers, engravers and related equipment.

A conference room will have 14 seats and videoconferencing capabilities.

At this point, all these tech services are free, Swed said.

There will be five individual and group study rooms. Two meeting spaces can be combined into one 2,000-square-foot community room.

Wait, there’s more

The library now has about 55,000 items and plans to go to about 90,000 to open. “This will include doubling the number of children’s items from 23,000, increasing the DVDs from about 6,000 to 9,000, increasing the teen items from 3,000 to 4,500,” Swed said.

The library circulates more children’s books than materials for adults, he said, so the space for children’s books will more than double. The space for teen and adult books will grow 25%.

Children and teens get their own dedicated spaces. Adults get one for quiet reading.

The number of computers will double from 12 to 24, and to accommodate the increasing numbers of patrons bringing their own laptops, there will be more tables with electrical outlets.

Citing the Appoquinimink School District’s immersion programs, Swed said they are looking at growing the several dozen books in Spanish to several hundred and creating a collection in Chinese.

The library will probably be open for 55 hours a week (probably closed Thursdays), up from the 48 hours curbside pickup has been offered and the 45 hours it was open before the pandemic.

Building for the future

The facade looks like a row of intimate buildings, rather than one monumental structure that would overpower the block.

Solar panels, lots of windows, skylights, a rain garden, electric vehicle charging stations and other features will probably add up to a silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design designation.

There will be 112 parking spaces, plus an overflow lot off Cochran Street that could also be used by people at the school and the park. The library will continue a relationship with the school, Swed said.

The $27 million project budget is half covered by the state, with big support by the county.

Several regional foundations – the Crystal Trust and the Longwood, Welfare and Creastlea foundations – have also made contributions.

The Friends have a $750,000 fundraising goal for their part. Volunteer Brewing, Middletown’s first brewery, hosted a fundraiser that helped the Friends raise about $14,000, Swed said.

County Executive Matt Meyer has called this mix of funding “the best of the Delaware Way.”

Meyer said that he learned in his first campaign that MOT residents felt that they weren’t getting their value for tax dollars because some services were inadequate. The creation of this regional library, the creation of the large Southern Park on Shallcross Lake Road and the renovation of the paramedic station on North Broad Street fulfill his promises to deliver what below the canal residents deserve.

“Our new library in Middletown will better meet the needs of the MOT area with additional gathering and programming spaces that employ technology to promote literacy, learning and collaboration,” he said.

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