Brownell Library | Essex Junction, Vermont
Updated: Oct 22, 2019
Disclaimer: The Library Project unabashedly loves Brownell Library.
See, our book club meets here once a month. Most of us aren't Essex Junction residents, let alone Brownell cardholders. However, the library allows for The Kolvoord Room to be reserved for community use. It has a bathroom, sink, tables, chairs - all it needs is YOU! (In this case, us.)
Our club's founder needed a space to hold meetings and here it was: a perfect case-and-point for how our libraries encourage community beyond their own town's borders.
How many libraries in Vermont have a ginormous dragonfly strung from the ceiling? This may be the first. See it for yourself. Then meander downstairs and buy a few tomes in their Book Sale room. (Hey, remember: you don't have to be a cardholder to visit!)
So come along, read further, put on your adventuring pants! Here be dragons.
The mission to build a Library of Things.
Library Director Wendy Hysko speaks to the importance of having a library of things: items cardholders can use to improve themselves and discover the world around them. Bird watching kit? Yup. Garden tools, walkie talkies, a ukulele? Yup, yup, yup. And are patron's interested? Let this impressive stat sink in:
Brownell circulates more than double the state median in items and has 10% more cardholders than the state median for libraries.
Brownell has over 70,000 available items (both books and things). It's a healthy prognosis, found in the library's Strategic Plan: a relevant and usable resource for all members of the community.
The kids are alright
For teens, there are designated computers and a reading nook to camp out in: the YA section is with it. And the children's room has the same vibe, with a toddler friendly layout (i.e. a room ready to take a pummeling).
For younger patrons, the programing is just as lively as the layout. Brownell, in conjunction with Williston's Dorothy Alling Memorial Library and the Champlain Region Model Rocket Club, built and launched rockets during the summer of 2019.
Launching rockets isn't so out of the norm here. The Southern Vermont Natural History Museum might come in and show off an owl. Cosplay parties, animation classes, and kite making keep the ball rolling. So check out their active facebook event listing here.
Hey, find a Pop Up Library and magician in your near future, or a Star Trek marathon because they're cool like that. Brownell library makes a dedicated effort to engage with teens - hosting pizza parties and community building circles.
Before Brownell and after: here comes the history lesson.
Nearly 30 years before Brownell, the village's first public "library" was established in 1897. More than a century ago, the collection was a mobile entity, a carousel ride of books moving in-and-out of community spaces and homes available at the time (records mention at one point Essex Junction's library being housed in a private room).
Why? Libraries of today seem so solid, so fixed. One important but minor detail prevented Essex Junction from getting State funds. It wasn't a town. It was a village. And that disqualified it from getting much needed dollars for a library. But a sneaky workaround in 1899 occurred; the village of Essex Junction and the town of Essex combined libraries, thus making state funds available - AHA! Eureka. For the next nine years the Essex Junction Free Library operated out of the village's Essex Publishing Company building.
However the village's collection would move yet again into the Brick Hotel (aka, the Lincoln Hotel) from 1913 to 1926. The waltz of books moving from space to space would only end with the intervention of Samuel Brownell.
Built in the Colonial Revival style, Brownell himself not only supplied the original $20,000 but had an active hand in building it, choosing New York City architect Herbert Davis for the design and Frank L. Austin of Burlington to adapt it to the location.
$20,000 was quite a chunk of old timey money. A handy inflation calculator will tell you Brownell's $20,000 is roughly $280,000 today.
Materials would be sourced locally: bricks from Drury Brick & Tile Company; white marble from Proctor's Vermont Marble Company; and redstone sourced from Lake Champlain.
The original library's fireplace displays a portrait of Samuel Brownell, the library namesake (we lied when we said it as a dragon). The Brownell Library also provides a brief history here.
The Crossroads of Access and Technology.
iPad card catalogs are stationed throughout the library and big screens flicker with upcoming programming.
Downstairs is muted and worklike. Here we have historic annuals, a map of Vermont (over 100 years old!) and designated quiet areas. The occasional thumping of an excited youth is heard, but mostly a hush of silence blankets downstairs. Director Hysko notes a chunk of telecommuting patrons use Brownell as a work from home station, buffering the social isolation that comes with working remotely. Libraries are one of the last public bastions where an individual can walk in, breathe easy, and not spend a dime to enjoy the space.
As the director of the Brownell, and the President of the Green Mountain Library Consortium, Hysko emphasizes, "Libraries have to be innovative."
And so Brownell follows suit, with work stations on location and myriad ways to access items across multiple library locations. Brownell is a member of The Homecard Program so, say, if the Winooski Public Library has an item the Brownell does not, a cardholder can swing by Winooski and pick it up. Win-win! The library card also includes access to online classes, from animal care to entrepreneurship. Wanna see recordings of UVM Medical School lectures on medical and health topics? That's a thing too. Community access to necessary services are a theme at Brownell, in addition to the fun stuff.
Check out the Brownell Library Foundation, working to ensure Brownell's future here.
Libraries have to hustle hard for funding, an exhausting dance of numbers and fundraisers every year. Please consider contributing in some way: your money, or your awesome personality via volunteer hours.
Curious about the Green Mountain Library Consortium we mentioned?
That's a good sign of a great mind - you should be. Check it out here. A volunteer run organization with a goal of bringing Vermont libraries together, through programming and other opportunities.
Many thanks to the staff and volunteers who keep Brownell a relevant community resource and an exciting place to be.
P.S. If you've lasted this long, we have a special Brownell treat.
In the Vermont room rests a tattered binder from the late 90's full of patron suggestions and queries...
Amongst the pleas for Backstreet Boys books and DVDs on serial killers are several gems that define what librarians encounter. The cheeky Mr. "Harry Sachz" has a very vibrant observation which is handled with the good humor and grace that is a requirement of so many librarians.
And before the internet was readily available young people craved necessary information about their bodies and found it at the library. Today, that still rings true.
And the library will always be a place for us to learn - whether earthier inquiries or intellectual pursuits.
Thanks for hanging around. Now go, visit a library.
Citations: "...available at the time." - The Brownell Library by Carlotta S. Raine, Pg. 1
"...housed in a private room..." - Where The Books Are by Patricia W. Belding, Pg. 37 "...thus making state funds available." - 08/05/1926 Burlington Suburban List, Pg. 3
"...operated out of the village's Essex Publishing Company building." - 08/05/1926 Burlington Suburban List, Pg. 3