Renovated Somerville West Branch Library Provides Dynamic Space to Community


Many have gone through the West branch of Somerville Public Library on the path of Davis Square, look at renovations over the years, without ever setting foot inside. Built in the Classic RevivalI style, the Western branch has retained many of its historic features from the renovations while adding modern upgrades to make the space more usable for the community.

Somerville Public Library received funding from Andrew Carnegie to establish the Western branch building in 1909. Since the opening of the building, the Western branch only underwent minor renovations and some cosmetic work. The building was missing several accessibility features and air conditioning, and the only public restrooms were located downstairs in the children’s department, according to Somerville library director Cathy Piantigini.

Renovations at Western branch focused on increasing the accessibility from the library to the community.

“We want our libraries to do a lot to meet many different needs in the community, whether it’s through our collections or our programming or the space we can make available to the public. ” said Piantigini. “So what we really, ideally want are responsive spaces. ”

The library held a number of community meetings to get community feedback on what they wanted in the renovated West Branch.

“The community meetings were a real opportunity to find out what the community felt they needed in the renovated West Branch” said Piantigini. “There was a lot of planning around the size of the renovation because it was an opportunity for us to expand the library as well. ”

According to Alison Mitchell, Branch Youth Librarian, the renovation plan has changed considerably following feedback from the community at these meetings.

The updates consisted of a historic renovation of the existing building and a new addition.

“A lot of love and attention has gone into [the building] … The woodwork has been restored, the original tiling of the ground floor has been preserved. We had some of the original windows in the building, they have all been restored as well ”, said Piantigini.

Piantigini noted the addition is mainly used to house an accessible entrance, the new elevator and one of the new public toilets. The question was how big the addition should be to accommodate the diverse needs of the community.

“We ended up with an area in square feet which allowed us to have a very nice programmatic space in this new addition” said Piantigini.

A key part of the addition is the flexibility for different events. As late as last Tuesday, the western branch served as polling place for the community, according to Piantigini.

The modern addition has a wall of windows that opens onto a courtyard with a Norway maple tree behind the library. This flexible space has been useful in planning programs that can be inside and outside during the pandemic. Mitchell hosted a outdoor children’s story time in the renovated courtyard. There is also violin concert series which will take place this fall in the new space.

In addition, there are a number of wooden tables and a bar where people can sit, read and work. There’s also a drop-down screen that allows the library to have presentations and events, according to Piantigini.

The West Branch is the first of Somerville’s public libraries built to allow community members to use the space when the library is not open, Piantigini explained. There is a community room in the basement that people can book and use.

Upstairs in the original building is the children’s section, which now has a restored skylight. The ground floor houses the circulation desk and the renovated historic reading rooms. The ground floor now houses most of the adult collection and meeting spaces accessible to the public. There is also a big table where people worked and hung out, Mitchell explained.

“That was the point – to turn it into a place where people wanted to come and be – because before we had tables and things, but people weren’t hanging out there. ” Mitchell said.

Piantigini said the Somerville Public Library has received funding from the city and a grant from the Community Preservation Act for renovation.

During the renovations, the western branch operated a small collection from the Tufts Administration Building at 167 Holland Street. When the pandemic hit, TAB’s western branch closed to the public, offering only email and virtual programs. Staff were allowed to enter the building by June 2020, and the library began to do contactless pickup from each library location.

The renovated West branch opened its doors during the summer, offering only contactless pickup at first. Since then, the building has been open to the public, who take full advantage of the space.

Community members used library resources as printing, free wifi and loan of Chromebooks. It is also a place to sit and read a book or newspaper.

Since Western branch reopened, some Tufts students used the library to study and borrow books.

Junior Elisa Cink visited the recently renovated Western branch library for the first time this summer. She went with a number of friends to get a free library card, a the process she said was really easy.

Mitchell explained that students, even if they’re not from Massachusetts, can get a library card with their Tufts address for free. With a library card, students can browse physical books and access online resources offered as part of the library.

Cink mentioned that part of the appeal of the West Branch is its convenient location and the ease of borrowing books for free.

Some students like to have the West Branch Library as a study location off campus.

“I know that sometimes students like to work at Davis, so I think it’s a good place if you want to be somewhere other than Tufts,” Cink said. “It’s nicely renovated and there are large windows so it’s good for [studying]. “

Senior Caitlin Colino went to the library to study for the first time this semester.

“The first time I walked in I was blown away by the beauty of the interior,” said Colino. “It’s obviously pretty on the outside, but it was nice to see a modern vibe… It was a good balance of quiet and a little background noise… and I was able to do a good job.

The West Branch is now better able to meet the needs of the community and provides a welcoming space for anyone to visit.

“I really hope people have the opportunity to go and experience the space… It’s a great programmatic space,” said Piantigini. “It’s also great for someone who needs to work… you can sit somewhere really beautiful in just about any part of this library. “


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