NEWBURY — One can learn a whole lot about a community by stepping inside its local library.
When businessmen Greg Peverill-Conti and Adam Zand of the statewide Library Land Project visited Newbury Town Library this summer, they apparently liked what they saw and what it implied about the town that supported this important public resource.
“The Newbury Town Library is a wonderfully unexpected gem ... . The space is as bright and open and airy as you could wish for,” the two library superfans wrote in a critique following a visit to the library in July.
Peverill-Conti, who lives in Natick, and Zand, an Arlington resident, are on a quest to visit every public library in the state.
In the two years since launching the Library Land Project, they have visited and rated more than 200 of the state’s 483 public libraries, along with other libraries up and down the Eastern Seaboard and as far away as Louisiana.
Employing a five-point rating system, the project scores libraries on 11 criteria: parking/transportation, WiFi, meeting/study rooms, condition, completeness, community, friendliness, restrooms, noise level, general comfort level, and how good a place it is to work.
Each library is given an overall score and ranked on the team’s website www.librarylandproject.com.
Newbury scored a 4.45 out of 5, earning its highest marks for parking/transportation, WiFi, community, friendliness, general comfort level, and how good a place it is to work. Its lowest score was 3 in the noise category due to the openness of the children’s section and its proximity to other key spaces within the library. Like many libraries, it was also identified as needing to foster more participation from the community’s teen population.
Some other North Shore libraries and their ratings include: Hamilton-Wenham, 4.82; Newburyport, 4.64; Beverly, Chelmsford, Methuen, Reading, Topsfield, and Wilmington, 4.36; Danvers, 4.27; and Andover 3.18. The only facility thus far to receive a perfect rating of 5 is the public library in Webster.
Designed by Hale and Associates, Newbury’s 20-year old library was noted in the critique for the contemporary feel of its interior — with high ceilings and a large open main room and comfortable seating areas throughout.
It boasts two good-sized community use rooms — with keypad entrance access for after hours use at no cost tor residents; a room for local history and genealogy; distinct sections for reference, periodicals, adults, young adults and children; and a quiet study room that can be reserved.
The Library Land representatives praised the Friends of the Newbury Library bookstore, noting it raises more money with less effort than a traditional annual book sale.
“We’ve seen a few libraries doing this and it seems to make a lot of sense,” the reviewers state.
“They’re sort of like restaurant critics for libraries,” said Director Jean Ackerly. “We had no idea they were coming — though we had heard about them from other libraries.”
The review noted: “We were lucky enough to spend time with Erin Ouimet, the library’s assistant director. She filled us in on some of the library’s history and plans for the future, which includes some rearrangement of the collection and possibly additions to the large grounds surrounding the building.”
The critique also highlighted the library’s attention to adult programs.
“Most libraries have a ton of kids programming, which is awesome. We’ve talked to libraries that view children’s programs as a real core of their service — but sometimes this can create blinders that might ignore other groups,” the critique states.
A recent expansion of adult programs in Newbury has translated to more adult use of the library. “It shows that rethinking audience can lead to more visits by more people,” the review contends.
The library’s growing Library of Things collection, technology help center, and efforts to catalog the library’s historical collection were also noted; as was its practice of delivering books and other items to homebound patrons in the community.
“This may be a common service, but this was the first time we’ve heard of it,” Peverill-Conti and Zand wrote.
“We were impressed by their friendliness, responsiveness and happiness in talking about the library. Erin, in particular, was generous with her time and insights,” they wrote. “The Newbury Town Library isn’t a flashy bells and whistles kind of place, but it’s a really nice example of a well-run and well-loved town library.”
Ouimet said she and the staff were “ surprised and thrilled” by the visit and enjoyed the time spent with Peverill-Conti and Zand
“We consider ourselves a plucky, little library with a wonderful community of supporters, and we were happy to receive Greg and Adam’s high marks which reflect this,” she said.
As they continue across the state to fulfill their quest, the Library Land team says they can’t help but notice and be impressed by “the positive force libraries are for their communities.”