ASPEN HILL – The Aspen Hill Library closed to the public in November for a “refresh” project designed to update the building’s facilities, but patrons are growing frustrated at the slow progress and lack of a target reopening date six months later.
At the time of the closure, Montgomery County Public Libraries announced that the refresh would take five to six months and that it anticipated reopening the branch in spring.
Some patrons also resent the lack of communication from MCPL.
Chris Swan, president of the Aspen Hill chapter of Friends of the Library, and her husband, Elliot Chabot, chair of the Aspen Hill Library Advisory Committee, have long advocated for a more thorough refit of the library building and facilities.
“Here they’re going to be spending $800,000; on the one in Wheaton, they’re going to be spending $65 million on a completely new library,” Chabot said in October just before the closure. “In the time this library’s been standing, Wheaton’s will have been completely rebuilt twice, and yet we still have essentially what we had in 1967.”
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Chabot noted that the population of Aspen Hill in the year 2000 was far greater than was anticipated at the time the library was built (60,000 versus 30,000 people) but said that the library has not been updated to fit this need.
Swan said that the library plays an essential role for Aspen Hill’s senior population, which depends upon it for reading and internet needs, and its immigrant communities, who utilize the language learning resources.
Swan and Chabot say they have stayed as informed as possible about the ongoing refresh, but have been frustrated by the lack of information on its progress.
“They’ve made their primary public outreach a once-a-month blog by the new head librarian,” Chabot said.
“We have not been allowed inside the library,” Swan said. Swan said that MCPL did consult her organization on the library’s gardens, some of which had to be replanted to accommodate the construction of an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant sidewalk and new book deposit slot.
“We expected the library to be open by now,” Swan said.
MCPL Director B. Parker Hamilton said in an interview last week that she expected to announce a target date for the branch to reopen, “within a week and a half.”
“I toured the library with (Department of General Services Director) David E. Dise two and a half weeks ago, and we identified some work that we wanted done,” Hamilton said. “The project is still on target, and what’s been done so far looks beautiful. I’m excited for the new library to open.”
On Monday, the Aspen Hill Library Advisory Committee held a meeting at the Twinbrook Library where it formally welcomed Ken Lewis, the incoming Aspen Hill head librarian. Dels. Bonnie Cullison and Marice Morales (D-19) also attended.
Lewis, who has worked for MCPL since 2002, is currently the head librarian of the Little Falls Library, which is also undergoing a refresh project.
“I’m straddling both and hopefully doing a good job,” Lewis said. “As soon as Little Falls clears its last hurdles, I’ll be focused exclusively on Aspen Hill. I’m looking forward to working there.”
Lewis declined to offer an estimated date as to when Aspen Hill would reopen. He promised to look into issues raised by the meeting’s attendees, such as the building’s roof leaking and its fire alarm system being hypersensitive
Chabot voiced his concern that some of the branch’s new amenities, such as its “collaboration rooms,” would come at the expense of existing features.
“The top concern for some of us in this room is that the circulation and reference desk have been combined into one central desk,” Swan said “There’s no children’s reference, there’s no adult reference, it’s just one big desk, so people have to walk from the wings to the center to get service.”
Swan also asked Lewis if, given the lack of a target date for the library to reopen, the Advisory Committee should postpone or reschedule some of its programming, such as its annual summer reading programs for MCPS students, which are scheduled to begin in mid-June. Cullison and other attendees proposed alternate sites to be used if students are unable to access the library.
“I’m ready for it to reopen, I really miss being able to just come by and drop off and pick up books,” said Judy Tankersley, a member of both the Friends of the Library and the Library Advisory Committee. Tankersley said she has been visiting the Twinbrook Library during the closure. “It’s fine, but it’s not my usual route.”