New Chapter for Sag Harbor Library

After a four-year renovation, John Jermain reopens in its Main Street home
Catherine Creedon, the director of the John Jermain Memorial Library, triumphantly held up the book “Sag Harbor: The Story of an American Beauty” on its way on Saturday from the library’s temporary home on West Water Street to its permanent location on Main Street. Susan Dusenberry

The John Jermain Memorial Library closed the book on its four-year renovation process on Saturday, celebrating its reopening with a book brigade for which nearly 1,000 people turned out to form a human chain that passed a Sag Harbor history book hand-to-hand from the library’s temporary home on Water Street to its permanent location on Main Street.

The book that traveled that half-mile distance was “Sag Harbor: The Story of an American Beauty,” written by Dorothy Ingersoll Zaykowski, a fourth-generation resident. It was symbolically the last book checked out of the temporary library location before Catherine Creedon, the library director, locked the door there for the last time.

After the book arrived at its permanent home, Nicholas Gazzolo, the president of John Jermain’s board of trustees, stood on the steps of the 1910 Classical Revival library and said it was “a great day for Sag Harbor.”

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“A great community deserves great public spaces, and this library has been one for more than 100 years,” he said. “We just had to close the door for a few years to get ready for the next century. We are so happy to be back home.”

After the ceremonial ribbon was cut by library staff and elected officials, including Sag Harbor Village Mayor Sandra Schroeder and New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., community members poured through the doors. Most signed a guest book meant to record the day’s events.

Mr. Thiele recalled the day in 1960 when his father brought him to the library for him to get his own library card and check out his first book, an autobiography of a Civil War general.

“The newly renovated library is now equipped to spur the imaginations of the next generation of Sag Harbor children,” he said. “At the same time, the new library has preserved and protected the very best of Sag Harbor’s history and architecture.”

Mr. Thiele said Ms. Creedon, who many have said was the catalyst for the entire project, “has performed nothing short of a miracle for my hometown.”

The book brigade was planned by Mireille Sturmann, the teen services librarian, based on an idea from David MacMillan, a community member. “It was an adventure for sure,” Ms. Sturmann said after it was over.

Ms. Creedon said the event exceeded her expectations. Officials had hoped that even a few hundred people might participate, but what they happily counted was 982 children, teens, adults, and senior citizens from throughout the community. Ms. Sturmann kept track along the way, using a small mechanical clicker.

In an interview Tuesday, Ms. Creedon said the library had added a tremendous amount of new shelf space for its print collection, a climate-controlled room for its historic archives, a proper children’s library, and a new meeting and event space equipped with top-of-the-line audio and visual capabilities. More programs are on the way for children, teens, and adults alike, though it will take some time to put everything in order. To support the expanded library, two part-time librarians were recently promoted to full-time positions and more custodial hours will be added. The administration is considering whether additional staff will be needed. The building is fully compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act for the first time in its history.

The reactions were immediately positive. Emily Glass, 12, said she is looking forward to “everything, technically,” about the library. “I haven’t been here since I was like 5,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

Her friend Caitlin McSweeney, also 12, agreed. “My mind is blown,” she said. “I’ve only ever been to the library by 7-Eleven. Now I’m going to have to memorize this whole building. I’m going to be looking for where the writing club and art club are.”

“It’s a great day,” said William Pickens III, a Sag Harbor resident since 1946. “In a time when you think libraries are going to be defunct, it’s exciting to see that people are still interested in books kept in an edifice that says library — Kindles notwithstanding.”

Indeed, Ms. Creedon said Tuesday, circulation exploded with record numbers this week since the library reopened. Most of that has been children’s books, which she said is particularly exciting. “We are now going to see that pay off in terms of literacy in our community,” she said.

John Jermain Memorial Library moved to its temporary location in July 2011 because the main building had become unsafe, Ms. Creedon said. Construction began after permits were received in March 2012. The final cost of renovating and expanding the library was about $16.5 million, with the hard construction amounting to about $12 million of that.

The bulk of it came by referendum, approved by voters in 2009, which allowed the library to take on a mortgage of just under $10 million. Thanks to a capital campaign that began in 2007, the library had another $2 million from donors. When the cost of the project began to rise, the library eventually raised another $4.5 million from additional donations and fund-raisers. Included in the total were five separate grants from the New York State Legislature adding up to $759,118 between 2012 and 2015. The library received over 3,000 individual donations ranging in size from $1 to more than $300,000 over the course of its capital campaign.

Not only did the costs begin rising, but the construction delays began piling up. Restoring the stained-glass rotunda and installing the foundation for the expansion proved especially challenging, Ms. Creedon said, because of the degree of the rotunda’s deterioration and the insufficient soil density in the back of the building that required the entire foundation to be redesigned.

But not every development was an obstacle. Some, like finding beautiful old flooring underneath some carpets and lovely moldings underneath acoustical tiles, were a delight.

“The biggest discovery was the level of support from the community,” Ms. Creedon said. “Their support through all of the many delays never wavered.”

Dorothy Ingersoll Zaykowski’s “Sag Harbor: The Story of an American Beauty” passed through nearly 1,000 pairs of hands on the way from the John Jermain Memorial Library’s temporary home to its newly restored permanent home. Christine Sampson