Take Alice Jacobs of Waban, Massachusetts. Nearly a year and a half ago she spearheaded an effort to reopen the Waban Library in a public/private partnership. The City of Newton had closed its branch libraries in 2008 in a bid to save money. Together with the Waban Improvement Society and its board, Jacobs worked tirelessly in the summer of 2009 to reopen the building – now christened the Waban Library Center – as a community space for books, meetings, classes, lectures, art exhibits and concerts.
Today, just over one year after its rebirth, the Waban Library Center is run and funded 100% by volunteers. The WLC leases the historic and architecturally notable Beacon Street building from the city, relying on private and corporate contributions as well as revenue from classes to defray costs. The first year of the WLC has been an experiment for Jacobs and her fellow board members – an extraordinarily successful experiment, at that.
Jacobs recalls many bumps along the way, especially in the earliest days when it wasn’t clear the city of Newton would permit the Waban branch library to reopen. Jacobs attended many meetings at the Newton Free Library, City Hall, and with the Friends of the Library to find out more about their roles in supporting the decision to close the branches.
“I got angry and disenchanted, but I got even more determined to take back the library, and have it once again be a functioning part of Waban village life,” says Jacobs.
Other highlights of Jacobs’ work with the WLC over the past year:
• She helped the WIS team clean up the library, which had been shuttered for 18 months. She helped form a group of volunteers to staff it and help in the massive task or reorganizing the 15,000 volume collection. Jacobs continues to manage and steer the volunteer group of roughly 45 people from all ages and backgrounds in the Waban/Newton community.
• Jacobs initiated the WLC’s “Hot Books,” section, which features a privately funded collection of the newest and most highly sought after selections – books that have hundreds on the waiting lists at the public libraries. A current goal is to increase circulation and foot traffic to the WLC by boosting awareness of this popular section.
• Jacobs brought the first chamber music concert to the library, a successful event which showcased the Boston Conservatory musicians, and the remarkable acoustics of the library. She also brought in our first author to speak at the library, Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, who attracted a large audience, and garnered publicity in the Boston Globe.
• In one of the biggest wins all year, Jacobs advocated – and won – the right for the WLC to be the beneficiary of a 5% Day at our local Whole Foods Market on Walnut Street. WLC received 5% of Whole Foods revenues from a day of sales, which brought $4,345.86 to WLC coffers. This terrific event occurred on our first birthday, September 21, 2010, a very satisfying way to celebrate our first year. Jacobs continues to develop new fund-raising activities with our community-minded partner, Whole Foods.
• Part of Jacobs’ role is as ambassador to pro-library groups in other cities and towns. Jacobs has spoken to groups in Belmont and Quincy to share her experiences and lessons learned. As word of WLC’s success gets out, she plans to do more community speaking. Waban can be the example for many other small villages and cities in the Boston area, and beyond.
Alice Jacobs is a true community advocate, an impassioned crusader for the cause of our arts, reading and learning. She believes that there are other ways to provide the quality of life when our local governments are too hard pressed to stretch. By motivating residents to give a few hours a week, the lights can be turned back on in the libraries, as they are in Waban.
She says, “This process has been a wonderful source of positive energy for me and lots of others. We all struggle with our current economic climate, and with personal losses and transitions. For me and for many others in Waban, the WLC has provided a positive focus to which we can devote ourselves and thus do well by ourselves and by the community at the same time.”
For more information, see wabanlibrarycenter.org or contact Lauren Paul at 617-559-9967 or lauren.paul@
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About Waban Improvement Society. Established in 1889, the Waban Improvement Society is a 501(c)(3) non profit organization whose membership comprises all people who live and/or work in Waban, Massachusetts. The Society promotes any activity intended to improve Waban and fosters a sense of community for those who live and work here.