At the July 26 meeting of the trustees of the Vineyard Haven Library, selectmen and members of the public expressed objections to the plan to build a function room over the library’s garden.

Their principal points: the town’s interest in maintaining and upgrading its existing vest-pocket parks; the significant reduction in natural light in both the reading room and the children’s section; the objections of abutters; and the importance of respecting the wishes of past donors that the garden commemorate the important Shakespearean actor-director-director Margaret Webster, who owned a cottage in Gay Head and was a seasonal resident from 1939 to her death in 1972.

Ms. Webster was the first director to successfully bring Shakespeare to Broadway and to cast an African American, Paul Robeson, as Othello. The Margaret Webster Garden would be an asset for library users and the general public and a significant bookend to the Vineyard Haven cultural district, with special meaning for the theatrical, LGBT, and African American communities.

It is true that the garden was used far more in past years, for special events and children’s activities. Nevertheless, it is still being used every day by all those who enjoy the reading room and the children’s room. Natural light and a view of nature outside the windows — be it greenery, autumn colors, or snow — is, quite simply, a recognized booster of physical and mental health.

Fortunately, the addition of a function room is not a zero-sum game, with the garden being zero. The current library structure and parcel provide other options — win-win options — for the creation of a function room. The most obvious one is the area between the library’s north wall and Greenwood avenue, a dead space that is actually an eyesore. The building and the neighborhood would be visually and functionally improved by pushing out the library walls into this space. Doing so would open up significant square footage in the library. Simple reconfiguration of the ground floor would create a beautiful, flexible space to be enjoyed by regular library users and attendees of special events. Such a space would of course be enhanced by the view of the garden, whereas building over the garden would likely result in three darker spaces: the children’s room, the reading room, and the function room itself.

Other win-win options for expanded space for functions would be to build up, over the extension or over the main building, or to expand the footprint of the existing function room on the lower level into the little-used space behind it.

I urge the library trustees to instruct the engineer to provide at least two options for the function room and to maintain the garden as the asset that it is. Needed repairs in the rear of the building that face the garden should also be undertaken.

Katherine Scott
Vineyard Haven