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Roxbury's Tiny Library Gets a "Pot"

State of the Arts


Published May 21, 2008 at 12:44 p.m.


The Roxbury Free Library - all 450 square feet of it - was erected as a tearoom back in the 1920s. Its patrons must have had good bladder control, because the builders never bothered to equip the place with a bathroom. It became the town's library in 1934, and since then readers who like to linger in the stacks have had to get creative about answering nature's call. Some ducked behind a snow bank; others used the water closets next door, at the Roxbury Union Congregational Church.

That's about to change. With support from donations and students from Norwich University's School of Architecture and Art, the "wi-fi library without a pot to piss in," as librarian Susan D'Amico dubs it, will soon have indoor plumbing. It's a bit of a tragedy to lose that poetic description, but the growing number of people who borrow books and attend the Roxbury Free's 40-odd special programs every year won't mind a bit.

According to trustee Chris Dorer, 31, the addition of a bathroom has "been talked about for a long time," but getting the funding for the job was the enduring challenge. Then Arthur Schaller, a member of the library's book club and the dean of the School of Architecture and Art, suggested that the project would be perfect for his third- and fourth-year students.

In addition to the 15 students - most of them female - donating their time this spring, the library was able to raise $21,000 from town residents and secure a $15,000 grant from the Vermont Arts Council. That sounds like a hefty sum for a restroom, but once the students dug into the project, they discovered that much of the library's substructure was rotten, owing to the high water table. So they moved all the books to the church, then hoisted up the library to replace the posts, sills and floor joists.

As it happens, the addition will include more than a bathroom; at 240 square feet, it will provide much-needed space for boots and coats, a kitchenette, and a big window to let natural light illuminate a couple of new chairs and tables.

Having an eager bunch of students on the project definitely saved the town money, but when the semester ended last week, so did progress on the addition. Dorer says the library may hire a Norwich student over the summer to finish the exterior - all it needs is siding and roof shingles - but the trustees still must raise about $10,000 before the arts council grant is released. Meanwhile, D'Amico is collecting both donations and contractor bids for the electrical work, insulation and heating.

D'Amico, the "head and only librarian," is looking forward to having more space for daily comforts like coffee, which she has been making on a chair beside an electrical outlet. She notes that the new addition will make the library accessible to people with disabilities, too.

That means even more people can congregate at this social hub of Roxbury, population 576. Besides the usual fare - story hour and book discussions - the library has tacked on a host of popular nighttime programs: basket weaving and spoon carving; a talk by Civil War historian Howard Coffin; and a screening of Edward Pincus' new documentary about Hurricane Katrina, The Axe in the Attic.

"It's a very small library," Dorer concedes, "but it offers so much."