By Cara Williams, Photography by Clay Dolan

The Meaford Public Library, which has serviced the public since 1854, is a cornerstone of the community. For nearly half a century the library was located at 15 Trowbridge Street. Unfortunately, the building required extensive upgrades in order for it to be fully accessible by 2025—an essential requirement under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). In 2018 the Municipality of Meaford Council approved a motion to renovate a vacant grocery store in the downtown core and relocate the library. A deal was struck and construction on the new $7.1 million facility began in 2019. The new state-of- the-art Meaford Public Library officially opened its doors at the corner of Sykes and Trowbridge in November 2020.

It’s been a strange first year to say the least. Due to the pandemic the library was forced to close and resort to curbside pick-up service on December 26. In February, 2021 the library reopened with restrictions, only to return to curbside service by March. They reopened again on July 2. Despite these disruptions, the library has seen an increase in patronage, issuing nearly 700 new memberships in under 10 months— twice as many compared to the same time frame in previous years. Their demographics are changing as well. Previously, the bulk of patrons were adults over the age of 55, now younger readers are drawn to the refreshed space. “Since the pandemic started, many families with young children are moving into the area, probably due to the increase in working from home,” says Lynne Fascinato, Acting CEO/Technical Services Coordinator, Meaford Public Library. “The new fully accessible Meaford Public Library is a true community hub for those who want to socialize, read the paper, meet friends outside around the fire pit, have lunch at the café tables, and more.”

Inside the building, the beautifully appointed open concept space boasts impressive sightlines throughout the library and overflows with natural light through floor-to-ceiling windows. Bright walls and comfortable furniture beckon avid readers and academics, while ample study desks are equipped with built-in device charging and electrical outlets. Six spacious meeting rooms are outfitted with smart TVs, whiteboards and comfortable desks and chairs. The teen and youth spaces are decked out with relaxed age appropriate furniture, while the junior area houses public access computers and two Early Literacy Centre Stations.

The journey to the new library included many important partnerships beginning with the Library Board, Library CEO, Cathie Lee, Municipality of Meaford Council, as well as the general public. “The library conducted many public surveys over the years in order to obtain feedback about what our users wanted in a new library,” says Lynne. “A common theme was the wish for the new library to be in the urban core and many expressed the need for a green space. These two criteria are met with the new building. The parkette is a wonderful addition to the build. It runs adjacent to the Bighead River, home to a fire pit, Muskoka chairs, café tables and chairs.

There are 2,000 plants surrounding the building, with most being pollinators, and apple trees that are the same type as those found on the Municipality of Meaford Crest.” The Meaford Public Library Fundraising Committee was integral to the success of the new Library Capital Campaign, along with staff of the Municipality of Meaford, through their success in obtaining capital grants. This hard-working committee set a goal of $750,000 and so far, has raised close to $900,000. The Friends of the Meaford Library (FOML), founded over 25 years ago to financially help the library, had members who also sat on the fundraising committee. The meeting rooms in the library are named in honour of those who generously donated over $50,000 to the capital campaign; the Rotary Club of Meaford; the Stanley Knight Family; the Weston Family Foundation; the Ontario Trillium Foundation; the Friends of the Meaford Library; as well as the Government of Canada’s Enabling Accessibility Fund. “Establishing community partnerships is so important to public libraries,” says Lynne. “The new building and the meeting rooms enable our partners working in social services and employment services to have that private confidential space in order to meet with clients.”

The new building employs an integrated Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system. The most exciting feature of the system is the self-check kiosk which enables patrons to check out their materials on their own which is a time saver when the circulation desk is busy. “The system also comes with security gates that have people counters so we can record the traffic in the building,” says Lynne. “Tagging the books enabled us to also weed the collection, according to our collection development policy, and perform a full inventory at the same time. As a result, the collection that moved to the new library is fresh and relevant, and ready to check out! We can now rebuild the collection to suit the demographics of our increased membership. The new building has loads of book display space compared to the old, helping patrons pick items out quick and easily—display it and it goes out!”

The Meaford Public Library is spreading its wings at its new, accessible and welcoming space. While the dedicated, creative staff adapted the old building to suit the needs of its patrons, the new building has afforded more variety in programming. “Having the parkette with the natural gas fire pit has us envisioning story times outside, fireside meetings, hosting events in the green area of the parkette such as author events, arts and crafts shows, and more,” says Lynne. “The backbone of all public libraries is inclusion and equality. Even if AODA didn’t exist, the need for a fully accessible library is the right thing to do. Barriers to any type of service is not acceptable in today’s world.”

The Meaford Public Library Board and CEO are working diligently on a new strategic plan which will be the guide for programming and services for the next four years. “It’s exciting to be able to work on these important documents focusing on our new building,” says Lynne. “The old strategic plan focused on accessibility and now that we have achieved this we can focus on other important topics, while of course ensuring we keep up to date on changes in accessibility needs in the future. The Municipality of Meaford is at the cusp of change with a new K-12 community school, new library, and loads of new housing projects in the works. We’re on the brink of great things and we are so proud that the community has a new fully accessible library that will adapt service needs to this changing community and is open to everyone!”

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