How will people get to the library if it moves across town?
The same way they get there now, according to organizers: Drive.
When Rutland Free Library announced its plans to move from its Court Street location to the former College of St. Joseph administration building — which included the college’s library — Library Director Randal Smathers said very few patrons actually walk to the library anymore and they are vastly outnumbered by patrons who would be better served at the more handicapped-accessible campus.
Smathers acknowledged that he lacked user surveys or other forms of hard data supporting this claim. “Libraries have a terrible time with surveys because the people who need our services the most are the people least likely to know we offer those services,” he said. “We could do a survey of how people get to the library, but that means we’re only talking about people who access the library. We aren’t talking to people who don’t get here because we don’t have a place for them to park.”
That leaves the impressions of people most involved with the library.
“Last summer, after BROC, we were the second-most popular place for kids to get free summer lunches,” Smathers said. “This is not a wealthy population, and the vast majority, nine out of 10 of these kids, came in a car. Some came with multiple families in a car.”
The library — which serves the city as well as the town, Mendon, Tinmouth and Ira — sits in the legislative district of Rep. Larry Cupoli, R-Rutland, who said he has not heard from any constituents upset the library will no longer be in their neighborhood.
“I haven’t really heard from anyone,” he said. “I do know the times that I’ve gone to the library, I don’t walk. I get in my car and drive.”
And while the new location would make it less walkable for people in some neighborhoods, it would be more walkable for others.
Rep. William Notte, D-Rutland, said that it could make for a pleasant Sunday stroll for his constituents in the Northwest neighborhood or — once the Creek Path is completed — a nice bike ride.
“We have been working to connect Giorgetti Park to the former CSJ campus for a decade now,” he said. “If you live in the Stratton Road area, yeah, it’s much farther to walk to that library. If you’re living there, you probably weren’t walking to begin with.”
There are, of course, people without vehicles. Smathers said the library is developing a system to provide free bus tickets to patrons who need them, and he expects an expansion of service to the site.
Little information was immediately available from Marble Valley Regional Transit about future plans for service to the campus, where the city has turned the gym into a municipal recreation center and a developer is converting the balance of the campus into a senior living facility — and dropping hints about future partnerships.
“All I do know is: We service the College of St. Joseph right now on our Proctor route, which runs four times a day,” said Marble Valley representative Lee Bizon.
City Recreation Superintendent Kim Peters said she is preparing for talks with the Regional Transportation Council regarding bus service to the site. She said her own experience indicates the route is underutilized, at least as far as the recreation center is concerned.
“We do have one gentleman that uses it every day,” she said. “Other than that, it’s sporadic.”
Peters said she believes there needs to be an education campaign aimed at youth and families regarding The Bus.
“That’s a key piece that’s missing — how to use a bus,” she said. “I think there’s a fear of using it.”
Smathers said the library has not yet begun its talks with The Bus.
“I can say this: It will be better bus service than it is now simply because if you’ve got rec and the library and 150 seniors all on the same stop, there’s going to be a lot more demand,” he said.