COLONIE — The much-loved William K. Sanford Library the Town of Colonie may be celebrating its 40th birthday this year, but it has no plans to go into retirement. Rather, the staff of the library have been working towards making sure the library is able to keep up with Albany County’s largest suburb as it makes its way through an increasingly digital world.
The library was built 40 years ago in 1976 when William Sanford, who had a vision of a large, full service library in the town, gathered together residents and officials to establish the building now known as William K. Sanford Library on Albany Shaker Road.
In 1984, Richard Naylor became the assistant director, and his first job was to automate the library. Naylor said that there were 200,000 records that needed to be automated, which took about 18 months. Around 1990, the building grew from its original 32,000 square feet to its current 35,000 square feet with the construction of the mezzanine, which allowed the library to effectively double the amount of books they owned, creating a much larger non-fiction collection. In the late 1990s, according the Naylor, there was a fireproofing upgrade, and programming that the library offers has been consistently growing.
“It’s always been a place where people come to get away from things,” Naylor said, noting the biggest change he saw as the years have gone by is the vanishing of high school students taking up all the tables on a Sunday afternoon while they put together projects last minute. Now, though those patrons might not come in on Sundays anymore to do homework, Naylor pointed out that it’s possible that they come into the library with their own children.
“So many people have gone to this library throughout their entire lives,” Naylor said. He said that though there’s a question of what current children will want out of the library in 10 or 20 years, the most important thing the library can do is hold onto its mission of education.
Now, decades later, the building, while still highly utilized and cherished, is in desperate need of all sorts of updates. Last June, Evelyn Neale took over the job of director from Naylor. Neale said that accomplishing change at the library has been a little complicated due to the vast amount of upgrades that need to be done.
“It’s a big library. We serve 82,000 people, and there’s a lot to be done, being in a 40 year old building,” Neale told Spotlight News.
After some community conversations, it quickly became clear that, while the public wanted upgrades, they did not want the library to move locations, or open up satellite locations, which was a thought early on in the upgrade process. Neale said the library received a lot of negative pushback against the idea of the library moving, and that people love the location so much because it is literally geographically in the center of town.
Much of the upgrades the building needs, according to Neale, are electricity based. Such fixes will allow the library to make full use of its computers and wifi, which Neale says has to be restarted on a regular basis. There is also a demand for more outlets, and new, clean carpeting. Neale said the library receives daily complaints about the state of the carpet, which has worn down over time, having to deal with the estimated 20,000 people a month who walk through the building. Naylor also mentioned that even when he was director, people were requesting cleaner carpeting and chairs.
Something else Naylor said people wanted that Neale reiterated is an expansion of ESL classes and training space. Neale also wants to focus on reorganizing some of the existing space into more efficient meeting rooms, which she said there is a high demand for due to the prevalent business community in the town.
With a current operating budget of around $2.6 million, Neale said that library will need $3 million just to cover the repairs. The library upgrade would cost closer to $5 million if there was expansion involved, but Neale emphasized that the $3 million for basic upgrades and maintenance is something the library desperately needs. She said 10 years ago, the mentality was one closer to speculation of what would be ideal for the building.
“It was more like, it would really be great to use this property this way. Now it’s, this has to be done, and it has to be done yesterday,” Neale said.
Red tape surrounding access to funding have made getting the repairs done a challenge, but actually implementing them will be an entirely different hurdle in its own right, said Neale. She would like to see the library remain open to the public during the upgrades so that her current staff of 47 people, and the average 650 people who come in each day still have a place to go for all of their technology questions and, and to access the books, of which 600,000 to 700,000 are circulated each year.
Neale agreed with Naylor about the fact that one of the biggest things that makes this particular library so popular is the sense of community it instills in its patrons. Neale pointed out that Colonie, as large as it is, is also very family oriented, and that statistically, many residents who grew up in the town stick around to raise their families.
With the generational continuity of the town, and the upgrades approaching, Neale is confident that the library is not falling down the path to obsoleteness, rather it is being revamped and finding new purpose.
“It’s like any kind of business. You have to respond to your users, and I think we’ve been responsive,” she said. “We have to stay relevant. I think that’s everywhere. In order to maintain the love of our users, you don’t want to go into their memory, you want to stay in their present. We are more relevant now than we ever were.”