Past, present, future: Trumbull Library turns 40
Like the pages in the thousands of books that decorate its walls, the Trumbull Library has a story to tell.
In 1972, the Town Council approved funding for a central library; and, three years later on June 8, 1975, the building at 33 Quality Street opened its doors in a grand opening celebration.
Fast forward 40 years — and a few months — and the library remains a fixture in the center of town, and plans to host another party from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20, to commemorate its four decades of service to the Town of Trumbull.
“Everyone worked so hard to make this happen — the community was so proud when this structure was finally built,” said Joan Hammill, who is vice chair on the library’s board of trustees and who was there when the building broke ground on Aug. 25, 1973.
“Prior to the Quality Street location there were three small branches — Nichols Memorial, Fairchild-Nichols, and Hawley Memorial,” she explained.
Those three independent libraries opened in 1923, 1929, and 1937, respectively, according to board member John Breedis, and served a population of around 5,000 in 1940.
Almost three decades later, on July 1, 1969, the three branches were unified under the town’s administration and Grace Birch was named the first town librarian — now serving a population of 30,000 Trumbull residents.
Susan Horton, the library’s current director, said that when the council approved a centralized location the Nichols branch, which still exists today as the Fairchild-Nichols Memorial Library, a deal was worked out with the board of trustees to remain a regional arm of the new Trumbull Library System.
“The other two closed and gave their funds and collections to the central branch,” she said.
“We’re still one of the youngest libraries in the state of Connecticut,” she added.
Of course, a building doesn’t just get built overnight.
Architect AJ Palmieri won the bidding process with a low bid of $939,890, beating out 11 other architectural firms to design the 23,500-square-foot facility. The final cost of the building was $1,089,500 — $4,832,600 in 2015 dollars — with $75,000 of town funds being added in December 1973, according to a special presentation Breedis made to mark the library’s 40th anniversary.
A year later, the building’s interior construction was taking shape and six months after that, in May 1975, books and furniture began being delivered.
“We want to go back and show what it was like 40 years ago,” said Breedis.
Three-time Grammy winner Steve Katz, a founding member of the band Blood, Sweat, and Tears, will start the afternoon with a discussion of his recently published memoir, My Rock ‘n’ Roll Years: Is Steve Katz A Rock Star?
The musician-turned-author will also play some music from 1:30 to 3:30 in the library’s community room, shining a light on all that’s happened in the industry over the last 40 years.
Music for kids is next on the list of activities with Music Mandy, a Trumbull resident and educator, playing in the main area of the children’s library at 3:30.
“We wanted to wait until this weekend to make sure everyone was back in town,” said Horton. “I think this ceremony provides a small example of the things we can do — a children’s musical performance, an author forum, a historical presentation and proclamation.
“It’s a celebration and exemplification of who we are and what we have become,” she added.
First Selectman Tim Herbst will give a proclamation speech in the library’s lobby at 4.
And throughout the day, there will be refreshments provided in the lobby by the board of trustees.
The Grace Morgan Birch Wing, which was dedicated in 2000 and enclosed the children’s section, is a cherished accomplishment among library board members.
“We wanted to make a strong commitment to the kids, and we wanted to keep adding to the base of this great facility,” said Jeannine Stauder, the chair of the library’s board of trustees.
“It was a real fight from start to finish, but putting that first shovel in the ground 15 years ago was a real highlight for all of us,” she added.
Horton stresses that the town’s youth is a large percentage of the library’s user population — and it always has been.
“People who used it when they were young are coming back again with their families — their kids,” she said. “It’s a full circle-type situation that we’ve really enjoyed watching.
Future pushing present
Stauder shares the same sentiment as Hammill, Breedis, and Horton toward the 40-year old building.
She also recognizes that the anniversary celebration is a kicking off point for the future of the library.
“The library continues to look out for all the members of the community — we’re working for them to make this town a better place,” she said. “But we can’t rest on what we have and what we can do in the present…
“We need to move toward becoming a cultural center and expanding our programs — more art exhibits, more musical performances, more lectures,” she added. “And we also really want to develop some life-long learning programs for seniors and bring them into the library.
“This is a place for everyone regardless of age, and we want it to be the best for everyone.”
In 2015, the library has undergone an intensive strategic plan that included meetings with individual town committees, surveys and an open forum for residents in July.
“The one thing we heard back that was pretty overwhelming and decisive is our location — we have to stay here,” said Stauder. “Nobody wants us to move.”
However, there were plenty of concerns voiced in the surveys, and in the meetings, about how to improve the library’s current structure.
“What we heard is that everyone wants this to be a gathering place so we need places for people to meet,” Stauder explained.
“We are now ⅞ completed with the strategic plan, and while we’re looking back this weekend, we see where we are now and we’re definitely looking forward to seeing what we need to become the best possible facility for this town in the future.”
It wouldn’t be a discussion of the library’s future without parking entering into the conversation.
After sifting through thousands of survey responses, the board members were clear on three things — the building’s location would remain on Quality Street, users enjoyed the library’s staff, and there was a blatant need for additional parking.
“We want people to know we’ve heard them and we’re making changes within this year,” Horton said. “Some are coming soon; some are going to come later.”
Breedis added that the building’s space will be rearranged to fit with modern needs.
“People use it different than when it was built 40 years ago,” Horton agreed. “So we have to get creative and start improving on what we have right away.”
While there are some hurdles to leap in the coming years, Stauder was left with one, large impression from the strategic plan
“The library is not a thing of the past — no way,” she said. “Not in this community.”