MOUNT DESERT — A Mount Desert resident would like to donate his collection of 5,000 to 6,000 books on sailing to the Northeast Harbor Library, provided it can be housed in a separate, secure, climate-controlled space.
The prospective donor, who wants to remain anonymous for now, has asked the library to propose two options for housing the collection — “one high-range, one low-range” in cost — according to Library Director Elly Andrews.
She said that if the library and the donor agree on an option, the donor would pay for whatever construction or renovation would be needed.
The lower-cost option that the library has identified is the conversion of part of what is now storage space in the basement of the building into a room for the sailing books. Andrews said they would need about 216 linear feet of shelf space.
The books would not be allowed outside the room, and anyone wishing to see them would be escorted to the room, which would have a table and chairs.
The much more expensive option for the book collection is building a room above the Mellon Room, which is used for meetings, lectures, musical performances and art exhibits.
The Mellon Room is the only part of the old library that was incorporated into the larger, modern building that opened in 2007. Andrews said the Mellon Room’s vaulted ceiling would have to become a flat ceiling if something were built above it.
“I love the Mellon Room the way it is, honestly,” Andrews said. “It’s got great acoustics. This would change it dramatically.”
Any substantial alteration or expansion of the library building would require the approval of the town’s Planning Board. Board members discussed the two options the library is considering but took no action at their meeting last Wednesday. However, there was consensus that the basement option would be far preferable.
“It seems like the basement is the no-brainer,” said Bill Hanley, the chairman of the board. “I think one of the tangible, qualitative aspects of the [new] library was the preservation of the Mellon Room and that thread to the previous library structure. If you did go above the Mellon Room, I think you would completely erase that.”
Board member Meredith Randolph said building a room above the Mellon Room might well mean the library would have to “take down the Mellon Room … and basically rebuild the whole thing.”
Board member Joanne Eaton said of the Mellon Room, “It was donated by some of the larger and more loyal, faithful donors and had a real sense of its own. I think that’s why they preserved it, and I would hate to see us change it for something that could be done in the basement nicely.”
Betty Tower, who lives behind the library on Summit Road, told the Planning Board that she looks out of her windows at the back of the library, “but the Mellon Room is still low.”
She noted that the acoustics of the Mellon Room, with its vaulted ceiling, are good for music events.
“If you wipe that out, that would ruin it,” she said. “With a low ceiling, it would just be a generic room, and I think that would be very sad. I would be very unhappy to see that go.”
Andrews told the Planning Board that the library would like to keep the Mellon Room “as Mellon Room-like as we could.”
“But it actually has very poor windows; they are very poorly insulated and really need to be redone. And it’s either very cold or very hot in there; the heating system is horrible.
“[The room] is going to have to have something done to it eventually.”
Andrews said the library is still “just exploring” the possibility of housing the collection of sailing books and that “it might not happen.”