Noel Sloan Interview:
This is file #20, cycle 3. This is Jean McMillen. Today’s date is January 14, 2018. I am interviewing Noel Sloan, President of the Board of Trustees of the Scoville Memorial Library. He is going to talk about his position as Board President of the Trustees, and a little bit about the renovation which has just been completed on the library. But first we’ll start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
NS:Dec. 18, 1961
JM:Your birth place?
JM:Your parents’ names?
NS:John Joseph Sloan and Ellen Irene Sloan, nee Hewson
JM:Do you have siblings?
NS:I have one brother named John Paul who lives in England.
JM:How did you come to this area?
NS:In 1980 I was fortunate enough to win an English-Speaking Union Scholarship to The Hotchkiss School. I was a senior at Hotchkiss. That was the first time I had been to America. It was also the first time I had come to this area. I fell in love with Salisbury the first time I saw it.
JM:Wonderful! You got a job in New York City.
NS:I went back to England and attended the University of Oxford. I worked in the City in financial services. I was working for an American bank. They asked me to transfer to New York. I had somewhat mixed feelings about transferring to New York, but I thought if I came to America, I could come back to that charming village Salisbury. That is what I did. I was very fortunate to be able to buy a weekend house here.
JM:That is where you have been ever since?
NS:That is where I have been ever since.
JM:When did you come back to New York to work?
JM:Did you then start coming up here on weekends?2.
NS:Yes, the first summer I was here in 1997 I rented a house in Amesville. I was extremely lucky. I looked at a few houses to buy. I found one that I really liked and I bought it; I have had it ever since.
JM:That is fortunate. How did you get involved with the Scoville Library Board?
NS:I was friendly with Claudia Warner who was a wonderful contributor to the community. She raised the issue with Sara Wardell who was at that time President of the Board and had previously been Director of the Library. We met and very happily Sara was eager for me to join the Board, which I did.
JM:When was that?
NS:It would have been 15 years ago so 2003.
JM:When you joined the board, were you just a member or an officer of the board?
NS:No I was not an officer. I was just on the board. After a while I became Co-head of the Development Committee. Before I became President, I was never an officer.
JM:You went right to the top!
NS I went right to the top.
JM:Good for you! What is the term of office?
NS:For President, it is an annual election.
NS:I am now in my fifth year but I announced at the last board meeting that this will be my last year. I am stepping down at the end of June.
JM:When does the board normally meet?
NS:We normally meet on the second Friday of every other month. We meet about 6 times a year.
JM:How many are on the board?
NS:Eleven including me.
JM:What does the board actually do?
NS:The board is primarily responsible for two things. The first is setting the strategic direction for the library and the second is it is responsible for the library’s financial wellbeing. It is also responsible for overseeing the operations and evaluation of the director’s performance.
JM:That is quite a lot to do.
NS:Yes and the renovation was completely in addition to that. (See file #20, cycle 2 John Hoffman, Head of Buildings and Grounds).
JM:Where did that idea come from?
NS:The board thought about making changes to the building for quite some time before I became President. They thought of building an extension to the back of the building with a whole new entrance and probably an elevator. There had been ideas about changing the building for some time. Shortly after I became President, we engaged an external consultant to help us come up with a long- term plan. We interviewed people in the community. We had on-line interviews. We had focus group meetings, and we interviewed some people individually. As we compiled all this information it became very clear that there were some very specific things people in the community would like to change about the library. One of them was that people would like the original Reading Room, which was being used as the children’s library, to be restored to being a reading room. Another thing that came through very clearly from the surveys was people really wanted a staircase, a link between the two levels of the library. When the board reviewed all of this, it was clear that the board completely agreed with it. Many or most trustees had already thought we should be doing this. That was really the genesis of the renovation.
JM:That must have been about 2014?
Ns: Yes from about late 2013 into early 2014.
JM:It had taken a long time from start to finish. I meant not an extensively long time, but to get the ideas, the interviews and then to actually do the physical work.
NS:There was a great deal done, We actually thought it was done rather quickly.
JM:Yes it was a tremendous amount done compared to some of the other renovations that I have interviewed.The 1980s was the last big one. (See file #49, cycle 2 Gaile Binzen & Sara Wardell)
NS:Precisely. That was the extension. So what we had to do, before we could actually start doing any work, was to appoint a contractor and we had to appoint a designer. We reviewed or considered five different designers. There was a formal process; we chose a local designer Poesis Design. We did not choose them because they were local; that was an added benefit. We chose them because we thought they were the strongest candidate. We were quite clear; we thought they were the strongest candidate and were the most imaginative. We did think it was a positive to have a local designer, but that was not the reason they were chosen. We were perfectly willing to recruit designers from outside the area, if we thought they were the best. We wanted the best.
JM:And your contractor?
NS:The contractor was Burlington Construction. They were very good. Again we had a process: we looked at three possible contactors. Again we wanted the best; we decided on Burlington because they had done a lot of work in this area. We contacted people and organizations where they had worked and the references were excellent.
JM:That is what you want with any job.
NS:We expected that Burlington would be a bit more expensive, not massively more, than the runner-up. We were completely fine with that.
JM:You had to raise the money, it was all private donations.
NS:Yes, we had to raise the money. What happened was that the scope and the extent of the project increased as we went along. Originally, to give you a bit of background, what we were thinking of doing was reorganizing the main floor. We were going to restore the Reading Room; we were going to move the children’s library and ideally put in a staircase between the two levels. It was really the designers who came up with a very unusual and absolutely excellent idea of using part of the downstairs area which was not then being used very much and put the children’s library there. We realized that it was an excellent idea and we also realized that it was going to increase the cost of the program. We decided that it was such a good idea that we would go with it. In the end we raised $1,700,000. Every single gift was a private donation.
JM:But that shows what a wonderful community Salisbury is.
NS:I could not agree more. The community was very supportive, and generous. The other thing I would add is they showed great faith in what we were doing because all we were able to show them was some sketches, plans and designs and I hope they had faith in the Board of Trustees.
JM:They knew the board: they knew they were doing something absolutely wonderful. It makes no difference whether it is the new firehouse, the library or a new ambulance, this is a very generous community and they trust the people in charge.
NS:I completely agree. It was exactly our experience.
JM:I know things got changed around. When I interviewed Isabel Sloane, (See file #1, cycle 3, Isabel Sloane) she said they were going to put the DVD stacks in the middle of the open area by the circulation desk. It was horrible, but no one realized that until they saw it actually in place.
NS:One of the things we learned going through this was the importance of being flexible. One of the main examples, which I think is of great historical significance for both the library and the town, is the barrel ceiling. We all knew that in the main circulation area there was a beautiful barrel ceiling which had been covered over with a false ceiling. Quite early on in the project we did discuss the possibility of removing the false ceiling. All of us decided not to do it. Cost was a very important factor,
but we decided there was really not a need to do it. I am very happy to say that the fund-raising went so well that I suggested to the board that we reconsider the whole issue about removing the false ceiling. After a great deal of discussion, we decided to remove the false ceiling. It was a very difficult decision because we knew it was going to be very expensive. We also knew that it wasn’t fundamental to the library’s operation.
JM:But it adds to the aesthetics so much.
NS:Absolutely, so we discussed it very carefully and again unanimously we decided to remove the false ceiling. We actually reversed course on this important issue. The reason we were able to revisit the whole issue was that the fund-raising was going so well. That is a great tribute to the community, and to the Board of Trustees for being flexible enough to see the value of doing it.
The cost was the big issue; we were all so concerned, not just about the cost of removing the ceiling, but also that our ongoing running costs such as heating would go up. Fortunately the contractor explained to us that they would add some new very good insulation above the barrel ceiling and that it was unlikely that the operating costs would rise. That all made us feel quite good.
JM;The storm windows were later put on, too.
NS: They were done very cleverly because you can’t see that they are there. They were done extremely well. It was a theme throughout this that we really did try to use the best people throughout the project.
JM:You get what you pay for. You had a beautiful building to start with and you have enhanced it tremendously.
JM:What were some of the other hard decisions?
NS:The ceiling was the hardest. The other one which was a big decision was that the designer had come up with the idea, which we had not envisioned, to use part of the downstairs area for the children’s library. That was a case where as soon as the designers explained it to us, we realized that it was a good idea. That was a relatively easy decision even though we knew it meant that we would have to raise even more money. The brilliance of the idea just spoke for itself.
JM:It is easy access from the parking lot and the garden on the other side makes it an excellent place for children to enjoy the library. Another thing that I found very helpful was that you kept the library open as much as possible.
NS:We wanted to keep the library open as much as we could. We did have to shut it but not for very long at all, maybe 3 or 4 weeks. We used the downstairs area as a temporary library which was set up very well and worked very well.
JM:The staff did a wonderful job with that because you had your computers, magazines and newspapers, and the books. The staff was very flexible and very willing to work under had conditions.
NS:They were. One thing that was interesting about it was we took the opportunity of closing the library to reorganize and re-categorize the collection which overall has been well received. This was the Director’s vision (See File #27, cycle 2 Claudia Cayne). She wanted to move away from the Dewey Decimal System towards a category system. We took the opportunity since all the books had to be removed off the shelves to change the system. The staff worked very hard to reorganize it.
JM:It was a big project.
NS:It was a very big project. My point is that we were not just renovating the building but we did take the opportunity to reorganize the collection.
JM:It was more efficient doing it that way because the books were off the shelves anyway.
JM:The time frame for the renovation was about three years?
NS:Yes the whole project began in late 2013 or early 2014, I can’t remember when the building work actually began, but I would say the whole project from beginning to end took probably about 4 years. That was from conception to reopening after all the work had been done.
JM:What do you see as some of the advantages now?
NS:I think we have a much more attractive space, an incomparably more attractive space. It is much more practical and useful. We have a whole area with the Reading Room where people can sit and read newspapers and books and they do. We also, as a small part of the renovation, restored the fireplace in the Reading Room. The building is much more practical. We have two meeting rooms on the main floor which we didn’t have. We have multiple sitting areas. The access to the library is so much more convenient and we extended the parking lot. You can come in to the library from the parking lot and come up the stairs to the main floor.
JM:What haven’t I asked you that I should?
NS:One thing I really want to convey is that we recently learned to our absolute delight that the library renovation was one of five finalists in a world-wide interior design competition. The competition is called “The Best of Year Interior Design Award”. The library was one of five finalists; it was the only old building renovated. All of the other finalists were brand new buildings built from scratch. We didn’t win. The winner was a truly breath-taking and beautiful library in Thailand. We were surprised and astounded and deeply honored that we were one of the five finalists. We got a plaque for the achievement which will be added somewhere as a permanent exhibit in the library.
JM;It should be.
NS:One thing I want to stress is the generosity of the community and there were many examples of that. Another point that I do want to add is that we have a really gifted, hardworking, enthusiastic and visionary Board of Trustees. We couldn’t possibly have made these decisions if we didn’t have such an able board. It would not have been possible. The other point I really want to make is to praise the hardworking staff. Among other things they showed great willingness to change. They set up the temporary library and then adapted to the new building. They worked very hard, including rearranging all the books which had been stored off-site. It just wouldn’t have been possible if we did not have three things that aligned: a very generous community, a visionary and hardworking board, and a very dedicated staff.
JM:We are very fortunate.
NS:We are very fortunate.
JM:Thank you so very much.