Former Lives of Libraries: Berne Public Library
Submitted by Judy Petrosillo, Library Manager
The Berne Public Library’s former life was in the Old Berne Hotel at 1656 Helderberg Trail. The town purchased this building in 1969 and designated the right side as the library. The library was housed in these 800 square feet of space until 2013. The town offices were on the remainder of the first floor and the Berne Historical Society museum was on the second floor.
In that cramped space, 7,971 patrons entered the library and circulated 13,105 items during 2013. In order to look at DVDs, a person had to lean over the patrons using the computers. The worn orange rug was held together with duct tape so people would not trip on the fraying seams. Books were packed into long, narrow, dimly-lit aisles. One patron recently told me that she never read a book whose author’s last name began with A through J because that aisle was too dark and creepy.
The board of trustees began preparing and searching for a new location in 1975. Lack of funding and an appropriate location resulted in this search continuing over 35 years. Even though board members came and went and possibilities were examined and rejected, the goal remained the same. The Friends of the Library held many fundraisers in anticipation of a building purchase. Bookcases were bought from Borders in 2008 when the Wolf Road store closed in Colonie. The units were stored in a tractor trailer bed until a new library could be established. In the spring of 2011, the Saratoga Springs Public Library renovated their facility. The Berne Public Library purchased the secondhand circulation desk, conference table, smaller tables and computer carrels in anticipation of a move. These items were also put into storage until the right location could be found. Finally in the fall of 2011, the pieces started falling into place.
Saint Bernadettes, the town’s Catholic Church went up for sale. Although this was a sad event for the congregation, it was the perfect building for the municipal library. The Town of Berne purchased the property for the library on November 11, 2011 with the help of a matching grant from the NYS Library Construction Grant program. This one story Butler building with a solid concrete floor at 1763 Helderberg Trail was to become the new library. The stained glass sun was left as the centerpiece.
More construction grants were written and received. The building was renovated in a manner of keeping as much of its unique character as possible. Additional bookcases were constructed and volunteers stained and polyurethaned them to match those from Borders. The community moved the contents of the library into its new location in October 2013. One patron commented, “I never thought I would see such a beautiful building in the Town of Berne.” The bookstore design along with the many windows and high cathedral ceiling give the library a light and airy feel.
The public’s response to their new library has been incredible. In 2015, there were 14,313 visitors entering the building, an 80% increase. Circulation rose 15% to 15,115 items at a time when many libraries saw a decrease in circulation. We were able to increase the number of programs by 27% because we now have a community room that is not being shared by the Town Court and Town Board. The number of children attending Storytime has doubled.
Because we are across the street from the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Elementary School, classes walk over to the public library for field trips. The children encourage their parents to bring them back for more. Tutors use the space as well as girl scouts and other community groups.
It took a very long time, but this building is the perfect place for our community library. There are areas for collaboration, comfortable spaces for use of handheld devices, a small separate section for teens, and a designated local history area. The children’s books are facing out which is great for flipping through to find the perfect book.
Of course, now that we have 400 square feet more of library space plus a community room, we feel we could use even more space. Maybe in 35 more years!
Old Berne Public Library: