Fixing the Whole Library in Sag Harbor

The John Jermain Memorial Library has been standing in Sag Harbor since 1910, commissioned by Mrs. Russell Sage in honor of her grandfather John Jermain, who served during the American Revolution. But the time has come for a facelift. And more.

“It’s been an exciting process and we’re very happy that things are moving along,” says Catherine Creedon, the Director of the John Jermain Library, of the internal and external renovations underway at the Main Street building. Having worked in libraries since 1975, Creedon moved out east in 1981 and has been with this library since Oct. 1, 2007, holding her current position for the past five years. She has worked in many libraries in different institutions, including museums, public schools and prisons, “but this is the library of my heart,” she says. “It is the library my kids used growing up, that local merchants and teachers use. It is so much a part of the community.”

Making it even more valuable to that community while retaining ties to the past is central to the renovation project. “We have a deep commitment to the historic envelope. The original building is the best document in our collection,” Creedon says. “The two main goals are to restore and preserve that historic envelope and bring the facilty up to 21st-century standards,” adds Creedon, herself an author, having published her first novel, the popular Blue Wolf, in 2003.

The project will double the library’s square footage, and the huge expansion will also incorporate the addition of an elevator, a community art gallery, handicapped accessible bathrooms and more collection space. Another addition will include a business center that will feature computers, copiers, printers and fax machines. The electrical and heating systems that originally ran on gas are being fully modernized. There is also work being done to the a third story, where the oringal fireplace. that worked until 1994 will again roar to life as a working fireplace with a gas insert. “You’ll be able to curl up and keep warm and read your poetry or whatever you enjoy,” Creeedon enthuses. “It will be wonderful.”

The outside of the library now sports restored bricks and mortar. The green copper cap on the top will be replaced with new copper, which should start to turn green within a week, achieving a fully verdigris exterior in about 15 years. And then there’s the surprising addition to the library’s renovations made over the summer by unknown “sponsors.” Someone climbed the scaffolding to paint four neon whales on the front of the main tarp covering the building. The whales, which looked a great deal like Sag Harbor Elementary’s popular “spirit whale,” seemed quite happy to be there. Luckily the paint did not penetrate to the recently improved brickwork.

The total amount being spent on the restoration and expansion will come to about $12 million, and donations can be made toward the effort. The rise of the digital age may, in some circles, call the necessity of physical library buildings into question, but Creedon has  strong evidence to the contrary.

“We are actually seeing an increase in people visiting the library, using the community space, finding a quite place, a warm space in the winter or a cool room in the summer. Public libraries will continue to be a valuable hub of the community.”

The John Jermain Memorial Library is temporarily located at 34 West Water Street, Sag Harbor. The library should be back in business on the corner of Main and Union Streets by the fall of 2013. Call 631-725-0049 or visit www.johnjermain.org for more information.

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