Isobel Sloane Interview:
This is #1, cycle 3. Today’s date is Sept. 29, 2017. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Isobel Sloane who is on the Board of Trustees for the Scoville Memorial Library. She is going to talk about her work on the building and Grounds Committee and the recent renovation of the library in 2015 and 16 and anything else she wants to add. But first we will start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
IS:Isobel Sloane with an e
IS:Nov. 28, 1950
IS:Princeton, New Jersey
JM:Your parents’ names?
IS:Martha Chamberlain and Bill
IS:I do- I have a sister Martha and three brothers Alex, Bill and Ward.
JM:When did you come to the area?
IS:In 1980 and we bought a house in Amesville
JM:How did you get on the library board? Who asked you to join?
IS:Judy Gafney asked me: I met her probably 5 years ago. We were at a dinner party. She and I got to talking. I was speaking about how much I love libraries. “Oh, you have lots of energy. You ought to be on the library board.” I had just retired at that time. I was beginning to look for opportunities so the timing was very good.
JM:Judy is very persuasive.
IS:She is: so I was very pleased to be given the opportunity. I joined at for me the perfect time because the board was just undertaking the strategic plan. They had hired a very good group to do it, Fio Partners. This group did a fabulous job. In my working life, I have done many strategic plans and I have seen pretty good ones and I have seen a lot of poor ones. This one was extremely well done. It was very focused. In the end we got out to the community in focus sessions and individual interviews. I think the feeling was that we had gotten a lot of input from the community. It was not something done in isolation.
JM: You were on the Trustees Board, but then you got on the Buildings & Grounds Renovation board.
IS:It was called the Renovations Oversight Committee. I don’t think any of us who raised out hands knew how much work it would be.
JM:Or you would not have raised your hand!
IS:I probably would have. It is like one of those things that you are not sure you would do it if you knew what it was going into it. But at the end you are glad that you did it.
JM:Did you have a reason why you volunteered?
IS:First of all, one of the things I like about this board and what suits me is that it is a very active working board. Everybody is contributing with their skills in some way or another. I was so excited about what we were going to be doing that I just thought, “I really want to be involved in an intimate way.” It was great.
JM:How many were on the oversight committee?
IS:I think there were 5. We always Poesis Design there. When we were in the high construction area, we had Burlington there. They were doing the actual construction. Poesis was doing the overall design. They did some of the individual pieces.
JM:Who did the architectural drawings?
IS:That was somebody that Poesis uses, an architect.
JM:That was John Allee from Millerton. I asked John Hoffman. (See file #20, cycle 2 John Hoffman) How often did you meet?
IS:We met pretty much every Friday morning. I live in New York City and sometimes I spent many a Friday morning getting up her at 8 or 9 am. So I had to come up Friday morning I would get up at 6. My dear husband would come with me in the end. There we went.
JM:Were the major decisions made by the entire board or just the oversight committee?
IS:That is a good question. I would say the major decisions were made by the overall board, but within that we understood what we were trying to do. There were many decisions made by the renovation oversight committee. We had a good sense of things we felt comfortable deciding ourselves and other things we felt we needed to go to the bigger board.
JM:You have a very good working relationship between the people who were actually doing the renovation; your committee and the big board.
JM:The contractor was Burlington from Torrington?
IS:I believe that is correct.
JM:The Interior designers were Poesis from Lime Rock.
IS:That was really good. We did as a board interview three or four designers like Poesis. The other three that we interviewed were from elsewhere. They all specialized in libraries. You sort of think that is a good thing. In the end we chose Poesis for a couple of reasons. We were very happy that they were local. We tried to do as much locally as we could. Also they came with a very interesting premise which was-We have this beautiful old building with so many great features. You could actually show off those features better by juxtaposing it with things that were more modern than by trying to buy or build now old furniture.
JM:We just had a gentleman from Pine Plains who was expatiating about the beauty of the building, both the exterior and then the interior.
IS:That is great. That makes me happy. Not everybody loved it, but I think that if you do something different and meaningful, there is always going to be some controversy. That isn’t bad.
JM:Did Poesis do their presentation with design sketches or did they do a power point? How did they do their presentation?
IS:They did several presentations for us. I think one of the things that was great about them is that they were quite bold. Even when sometimes they would have marching orders from Noel or somebody about what we wanted, I can think of at least 2 times when they came back to us and gave a presentation that was different. I know you said that you wanted this, but we really think you should think about why. It was stretching the envelope. That is a risky thing to do as a firm. They really helped us to make some decisions that I think we might not have made on our own. But that is what you want.
JM:I know there were some hard decisions. Can you name a couple?
IS:One of the ones was that they really pushed us to do the barrel ceiling. I have so say for myself and a couple of other board members who crawled up to the top and saw the ceiling. I couldn’t envision what it was going to look like. I don’t have that mind. I just thought, “Gosh this is a lot of money for this.” Then lo and behold to me that was one of the best decisions that we made. It is now so0 beautiful down there, light and airy and you get the full effect of the big windows.
JM:That was another thing. The windows were half covered.
IS:Yes one third of the windows were covered. They also came up with the idea of the 2 nooks where the history room had been. When you come in, and I come in here at all different times, they are so used. Each one is quite different. They are used by people. That was not a controversial idea but it was a really good idea.
JM:I can remember John talking very enthusiastically about the nooks, but I could not visualize it.
IS:Yes, I know. I think that was really good. They were the ones that came back with the idea of a children’s library downstairs. That was not in our original plan. They helped us to rethink that. In the end we did not change the footprint at all. We did not expand the space, but we have much more usable space. There are these spaces that can be used for different reasons. My favorite is the Tower Room (used to be called the Kobler Room in honor of a former board President Donald Kobler Ed.) I just think that it was lost in the fog before. You never looked up to see that beautiful pendant ceiling. That is a very good example of the modern table with a glass top. You see this wonderful ceiling reflected in the table. That is where you see that idea of the old and the new complimenting each other tremendously. I don’t know what else I said about hard decisions.
JM:Not necessarily hard decisions, but things going slower that you hoped.
IS:Yes, much slower
JM:The problems with the stairs.
IS: Poesies designed the circulation desk itself. They did produce things. They have a manufacturing place. They produced that glass topped table in the Tower Room and, the stairs. They ordered the Plexiglas panels from somewhere else. Once or twice they came and they did not work. They didn’t fit. That was a big hold-up. Claudia and her team did a fabulous job in creating a mini library downstairs. I was surprised because I did not think it would be very attractive.
JM:They did a wonderful job with it.
IS:It was great. We really did want to stay open as much as we could.
JM:I think the patrons were quite forgiving and patient with the inconvenience because they knew the result was going to be fabulous.
IS:The stairs were a problem. It is funny how you forget these things over time. You and I had the discussion that initially there was a problem with the stairs which I now notice all the time, everywhere I go, where the steps particularly because there were several pieces of wood put together for each step, it is very hard to see down where the step ends and another begins. I think having the strips of tape defined the edges better.
JM;I am glad I was not the only one to saw that problem. You had some glitches with the canopy outside of the children’s room. It was supposed to protect the new doors. That was something that John spoke about. There were also some problems with the refinishing of the floors.
IS:Yes, again I don’t think we were happy with the first refinishing and it had to be redone.
JM:It is an older building. They do not always have the expertise for older structures.
IS:The other thing about the renovation that isn’t as obvious. We didn’t talk about this but we did a lot to improve the bones of the building in the sense of furnace, the storm windows, and we got the windows cleaned! Suddenly everything looked great. There have been a lot of improvements in just the basics of the building that had to be done anyway. It will be interesting going through the first full year of heating. We expect lower heating bills because we are more energy efficient. Those were all things that were not thought of previously or they were thought of and “Well, we’ll get to it.”
There was a lot of community input and one or two strategic planning meetings where they informed the public to keep people apprised. We did some outreach also via the website that we have. Claudia, once we opened, from the very beginning really solicited feedback. You could give it orally or she had little cards so you could write your feedback. She would summarize it. By and large people have been very happy about the renovation. A lot of times there might be one thing that somebody did not like, but you have to sit back and say, “OK, but what about the whole picture?” It is important to ask for the feedback. Some things we readjusted; we did make changes.
One major change that we made from the planning was the tall turn stands for the DVDs. They were all going to be lined up in the circulation room where right now the 4 chairs are. That was the plan; we all agreed and approved it. When they were placed, they looked horrible! You did not have to be a design person to know that this is not going to work. It was a big black eye. In the end it turned out to be terrific because now we are using that space with a table and 4 chairs and it is much more open. Those light blue tall chairs weren’t part of our original plan. They became the focal point.
JM:There are always flowers or a plant to make it attractive.
IS:It makes it look more like a home, with comfortable cozy chairs. I want to sit down and read than if we had left those black stacks there. There are some people who come in who want to be in a quiet spot and do their own thing. Some people like to be somewhere that has stuff happening around them. Now if you want the quiet, you can go into the reading room. If you want to be around people talking, you can sit out in the circulation room. Somethings morphed, not everything stayed in stone.
JM:That is good because it shows the flexibility of the board. It shows their versatility and the openness of their minds.
IS:The other interesting thing is that we hadn’t raised all of the money while we were looking at the plan and approving it. That was also a big risk. It was not an undue risk because I don’t think the board would have done that. It was a hurdle to face. We knew we had some individual donors who were very much behind this project. They probably would have come up with more money if asked. Overall the response was most outstanding.
JM:It is a very generous community. They are interested; they want to know what is going on. They want to participate. What were some other examples of uncovered beauty besides the barrel ceiling and the Tower Room?
IS:For me it is the barrel ceiling. At first I could not savor it and now I see how fabulous it is. The choice made by Poesis of the modern chandelier is just lovely.
JM:It is very modern but it compliments that lovely ceiling. Then you have the carrying beams across with the metal decorative braces.
IS:The other really fun discovery was the tiles in the foyer as you walk in. We did not know anything about that. I can’t remember whether we took up carpet or old flooring. It revealed the tiling. We had somebody come in. I think his name was Dicky who does a lot of these things. We didn’t really want to spend the money, but we also decided not to fix the tiles. When you look, there are some areas that are a little bit off. We got it all cleaned up and put on a surface that could withstand a lot of traffic. That may have been original, but if it wasn’t, it had been there a long time. That is quite beautiful.
The old circulation desk was a conglomeration and sort of a mess. All of a sudden, you look up there and there is that beautiful wood staircase which you did not see before. That was another choice and again that was Poesis’ recommendation-where should the circulation desk be? They felt that it was better not to have it right as you walk in. For some people it is almost jarring. There is somebody; they must be talking to you. Again many people like where it is now. Some people prefer it the other way. Where the new circulation desk is, is very nice.
We have some new area in the back area where the bookshelves are. The teen nook we all love, even if we are not teenagers. We have teens in the summer; we have seen more teens to come and use that area. The old carrels and the seating in the very back behind the bookcases I see that being used a lot by people. It is a great place if you are working on a paper or doing something quiet. You have a beautiful view. Now I would say that a lot of the space which was useless is now being utilized.
JM:There are different spaces for different purposes. I notice people using these spaces a lot. I saw a lady in the Art & Music nook reading a newspaper.
IS:She was very comfortable and enjoying herself. It is being used.
JM:After we talked before, I went downstairs and looked at the two fireplaces under the computer area. You are right; they blend into the wall and not even be noticed.
IS:Yes that was another discovery that out there were two fireplaces. When we took down the bookcases from that wall, we found two old fireplaces that were in pretty bad shape. Then there is that beautiful quote from one of the early historians. That stuff gets lost in the fog. Maybe one day it will change. Some of it is about where the computers are and how the computers get used. Who knows? At least it is there.
JM:It creates a question. What were they used for originally? That is good too.7.
IS:People can reserve the Wardell Room and the Tower Room; there is also a tech room. We have started to keep track. Last month Claudia said that 14 different groups had reserved one of those rooms which did not include the big community programs for a meeting. That is great. We want people to be able to use that.
JM:Claudia wants the library to be a community center. It used to be, than it was not, and now it is back being used again as it should be. You had a wonderful story about people using the computers.
IS:I know that this is actually not a lone story. We have had a couple like this. One of my favorite stories was this. The people who work at the circulation desk are very intuitive people. They pay attention to what is happening. One day a young woman was using the computer. The librarian at the desk saw that the woman started crying. The librarian went over and asked what the matter was? “I want to apply for a job, but I need a resume. I got all the way to the end of preparing my resume and it told me I had to pay $25 with my credit card. I don’t have a credit card and I don’t have $25. Now I have lost it.”” She was just in tears. The librarian helped her get her resume without having to p use the computer. She got the resume and printed it up. That was nice in and of itself. A couple of weeks later the librarian was again at the desk; the woman walks in and she just said, “I just want to let you know I got the job!”
I guess that was the other thing that I said when Judy was asking me about joining the board. This was during the financial crisis. Life was tough; people really use the library to come in.to have a place to go, to have a place to have access to the internet, to have a place to do some job searching. Libraries are so essential to the community. To me they are like national parks. They are open, free to the public and everybody should get to use them and enjoy them. It doesn’t matter what your needs are. Claudia and the team here are hard workers and they do want to encourage people to use the library.
JM:You had some achievements that you wanted to attain which you did. There was a three pronged plan.
IS:The goal was to help people to connect to ideas, to technology and to each other. The idea of connecting to ideas is when you are learning however you do learn. It does not have to be with books. The n 2 is on technology is another area where we been very helpful to the community. We can still do more by helping people to learn how to use all the technology that is available. Particularly since our demographics show we have a lot of people who are older who have not had as much access to them. It is a safe place to come in and ask questions. We have upgraded the technology down in the Wardell Room. We have the screen and the tech meeting room so people can go in and have a meeting. Importantly also is connecting with each other, to have a place to meet, not just an individual experience but having it as a community where people can come together whether it is a meeting, to do some of the activities, and the programs. I love the phrase, which is not my phrase, “Campaign to Connect” was a great phrase for our fund raising. It really captured what we were trying to do. Prior to that when we were working with the strategic planning, they helped us come up with our tag line, “What a great idea!” You will see that on a lot of things. That is what it is all about here, is having ideas.
You get them from reading books, watching movies, being with other people. And people talking to other people. That is what we wanted to achieve. It was really 3D.
JM:Is there anything that you would like to add to this before we close?
IS:The only thing I would say is that I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to be a part of this because for me, it was a great experience. Not only did I get to meet and know a lot more people around the community, but I loved what I was doing, I love libraries and contributing to something that I think is going to live on. It is forward-looking.
JM:Thank you so very much.
IUS:You are welcome.