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Meaford’s New Main Library Branch – Creating a Village Library

By: Brock James

Engaging with the community

Wmust go back to the beginning to understand what inspired some of the thinking behind Meaford Public Library’s new main branch.   It’s 6 p.m. on a cold weekday night, and Meaford residents are filing into an abandoned grocery store in the town’s centre. Folks have come to the library’s future home to share their thoughts. Over the next few hours, they engage with several questions, such as, “How will your new library be unique to Meaford?” There are colourful and informative boards with similar questions, filling up with ideas from the community. Later, we’ll be back here with the community, reviewing a layout taped to the floor.  

How will your new library be unique to Meaford?

Unique needs

After weeks of online and in-library survey feedback, the team added the input to the open house data. Several themes started to emerge. People see the library as a place for cultural exchange and lifelong learning. They want the thinking space of books, periodicals, town history and the doing space of instrument and fish-rod lending. They also wish to do many other things. They want the display of professional and user-created art, topical/seasonal themed displays, and community postings. They want live events, lectures, pop-up exhibits, live music, and workshops.  

Like many small towns, the community sees the library as central to cultural life. Meaford residents want the library to provide typical services. Still, they also want it to serve as a gallery/exhibit space, a performance hall, a recording space, an office space, a studio/maker space, a meeting place, and a place to play. That’s a lot to pack into a 10,000-square-foot footprint. We conclude that what underpins a thriving small-town library is flexibility.  

What’s in a branch?

The magic of a physical library branch is that it has the potential to be both a flexible platform and a manifestation of a specific context. It has the potential to facilitate an ever-changing exchange of ideas within a space that is rooted in the community.  

Overview of Meaford’s new library

Meaford Public Library’s new main branch is an adaptive re-use of the town’s recently shuttered Foodland grocery store at the gateway to the downtown heritage district and on the bank of the Bighead River. The extensive renovation extends the program beyond the existing footprint by converting a substantial part of the grocery parking lot into a public parkette – connected to the main street and adjacent river.  

Windows, wheels, and ceilings

We conceived the main space as a large, flexible community room to accommodate the many hats the library must wear. Periodical stacks define alternate desk and lounge seating areas in their typical setup. In event mode, stacks roll out, and furniture is changed to row seating or table/chair stations. All this happens under a unique sloped and patterned ceiling oriented to the main street. On three sides, carefully placed windows with ample sill display/seating frame views of community life. One window looks north toward the historic downtown, while an opposite window looks out to the tree-lined river and the bridge that marks the southern gateway to downtown. In this room, ever-changing uses are experienced within a unique space against the backdrop of the community. 

An interior view of Meaford Public Library

The transformation of the Meaford Public Library into a bright, modern, fully accessible facility has secured us as a busy community hub for everyone. Patron response to the new building has been overwhelmingly positive with users embracing the open design, improved technology, and bright-but-cozy social and workspaces. It’s a library to be proud of and will carry us into the future. – Lynne Fascinato, LIT, Acting CEE/Manager at Meaford Public Library

Walls on display 

The perimeter walls and millwork are very active as well. The east side of the community room is flanked by a long, flexible merchandising display, incorporated into the main desk, that can accommodate books and three-dimensional items. Between the large windows, wall space is given over to the artwork display and a large glass “whiteboard.”    

Other types of interactive walls are found throughout the library. Near the main desk, community pin-up boards are located above the self-checkout and the printer areas. At the far end of the library, an expansive, flexible slat wall allows for all sorts of displays and establishes a striking backdrop to the stacks area.  

The Meaford Public Library demonstrates that a radical repurposing of existing buildings can provide sustainable, adaptable environments that engage the story of a place. Visitors to the library forge a new relationship with their community – linked to the site’s historical significance as a vital place of exchange.  

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