O’Connell Library Branch Undergoes Renovation

Written by Chenchen Zhao

Chenchen Zhao
BU News Service

The O’Connell branch, one of the first established branch libraries of the Cambridge Public Library, will be reopening to the public soon, after it closed for repairs in early July.

A notice that hangs on the door of the O’Connell branch library details the construction that is underway. Susan Flannery, the director of the Cambridge Public Library, said the building will reopen  in the next few weeks but does not have an exact date.

For the 24 years Flannery has worked at the Cambridge Public Library, the O’Connell branch has not received any maintenance. Still, Flannery said, it offers an intimate space for people in East Cambridge to gather around and celebrate international cultures.

“Every building needs renovation, otherwise they will fall apart,” Flannery said.

According to Flannery, each branch library provides resources on one foreign language, depending on which ethnic groups live in the neighborhood. For example, the Valente branch features Portuguese, the Central Square branch highlights Spanish and the O’Connell branch has Chinese staff working there.

Standing in front of the single-story brownstone with cracked wooden exterior, dusty window panes, and brown glass doors, an East Cambridge resident searches for more information about the reopening of the O’Connell branch.

“We miss it,” said Sitarah Clark, the East Cambridge resident who has lived here for a year and half. She came to the library weekly with her daughter until it closed for renovation.

A craftsman repaints the doorframe of the entrance to the Cambridge Public Library O’Connell branch.

A craftsman repaints the doorframe of the entrance to the Cambridge Public Library O’Connell branch.

The Cambridge Public Library O’Connell branch was first established in 1897 and moved in 1939 to 48 Sixth St. where it has been ever since. The building is now surrounded by falling leaves and weeds. If not for the craftsman standing on the ladder painting the door frame, this antique house could easily blend in with the nearby homes.

In this new era where people consume an abundance of information online everyday, small local libraries matter more as a community gathering place for a neighborhood. Flannery said she sees people of all kinds — age, income, educational background, ethnic background — going to the library everyday.

Clark is one of them. Working for a non-profit project that helps youth gangsters to find solutions and changes their lives (Solution to Uplift Community Kids, also know as STUCK ), she usually comes to O’Connell branch library for resources, news, and printing services. Her daughter, age 17, also visits the branch for school work. Clark said she finds the small reading area very comfortable and she is able to get to know the people in the neighborhood.

“It’s very helpful,” Clark said. “If I lost my library card, they remember me.”

Patrons of the O’Connell branch are now going to the Valente branch, which is less than half a mile away. However, this winter, the Valente branch along with the King Open School will be razed in order to build new buildings for the library and the school. With the reopening of the O’Connell branch, patrons from the Valente branch will have a place to go during the  years-long construction.

“Our goal is to expand the opening hours at the O’Connell library,” Flannery said. In order to pick up the slack, O’Connell will be opening an extra day a week, with three days having extended evening hours till 7:30 p.m.

Flannery said that they don’t have money to do everything at every library because of the limited budget that comes from the city manager.

“It’s very fortunate to have seven libraries within 6 square miles in Cambridge,” Flannery said. “Most towns only have one.”

“I want the people in the community to think of the library as being theirs and part of them,” Flannery said. “We could make our world better by educating ourselves and by making it available to everybody, regardless of their ability to pay.”

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