Libraries: They’re not just for books anymore.
That’s the way Christine McDonald felt back in 1979 when she started working at the Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls. And as executive director the past 25 years, she has continued to keep the place in the forefront of what has become the city’s thriving downtown arts community.
“I think that was a big part of becoming a librarian back in the ’70s,” said McDonald, who has created film and writing programs, as well as a series on Adirondack history that grew into the library’s Folklife Center. “We were all getting our master’s degrees, and we were a part of this very activist group, our colleagues and teachers, that shared a philosophy: Libraries were supposed to be community centers, and we were to provide more than just materials. We were supposed to be places of public discourse, the kind of place where a good democracy thrives.”
For many, the library’s enthusiastic approach toward the arts and an equally energetic response from the community is a big part of the renaissancelike atmosphere pervading downtown Glens Falls these days.
“Libraries aren’t just a place for books anymore,” said Ellen Butz, executive director of the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council (LARAC). “Our library has wonderful programs for everyone, and it’s a big factor in a bunch of factors that have come together to give our downtown an amazing concentration of arts in what you might think is a rather unlikely location. I can remember when downtown looked like it was dead or dying. Now there’s a wonderful optimism and vitality that I never expected to see here again. This is an amazing arts community.”
Visitors to Glens Falls probably head there already aware of The Hyde Collection, a world-famous art museum and historic house just east of the downtown area. But there is so much more. Tucked in behind the Crandall Library is LARAC headquarters, which along with serving as a support mechanism for artists and other art venues, also has its own gallery of locally produced art.
Wealth of resources
A few doors down from the Crandall Library on Glen Street is the Charles R. Wood Theater, home of the Adirondack Theatre Festival, while also right in the downtown area on Glen Street are the Chapman Historical Museum and the World Awareness Children’s Museum.
Glens Falls stories
“This community has a wealth of arts and cultural resources and that makes us pretty unique,” said Butz. “It’s amazing that a city this size has something like the Hyde Collection, but we also have the Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra, the Chapman, the Charles Wood Theater, which is not only home to the Adirondack Theatre Festival, but also hosts a number of other events throughout the year. The World Awareness Children’s Museum has an outstanding collection of art by children from around the world, and all of these different venues work together to support the arts. We have a wonderful partnership that has really helped the city come back to life.”
The popularity of the programs at the Crandall Library have necessitated a $13 million renovation project, including a large addition onto the main building which was built back in 1931. The work is scheduled to be done by October of this year.
“Our new library building is going to have an exhibition gallery, a large community room to hold programs, and much more space for researchers,” said Todd DeGarmo, director of the Folklife Center at Crandall. “We have an awful lot going on, but so does our whole community. It makes you think more creatively and causes you to rethink your mission: How can we best help this critical mass? It makes our job very exciting.”