The beginnings of the Coyle Free Library was through the Chambersburg Afternoon Club, formed in 1891 by a group of ladies to “improve the mental culture” of its members. Six years later, with donations of 25 books and $25.00, the women began a library, originally only for members of the club. In 1898, the Library became public, was housed in a second floor room over the National Bank, and was staffed by Club members.
Chambersburg Library, circa 1895, on the second floor of the Chambersburg Trust Company Building. This library was created, operated and maintained by the Afternoon Club.
The building to the left was formerly the Chambersburg Trust Company Building, 14 North Main St, as it stands today.
In 1924, the Library moved into the stone building on the Northwest corner of Queen and Second Streets, built by funds left by Mrs. Blanche Coyle, an Afternoon Club member. Annual support was received from Town Council and a trained librarian was hired just prior to moving to its present location in what had been the Post Office building in 1964. Extensive renovations were made, using funds from the sale of the old building.
The Coyle Free Library joined Franklin County Library and Besore Library of Greencastle in 1968 to become the Conococheague District Library with District headquarters located in Coyle Library. Additional library space was made available, an elevator was added, and the basement was converted into a children’s library after a successful renovation campaign in 1980. In 1998 all of these libraries consolidated into the Franklin County Library System with one Board of Directors and the Director.
Coyle Free Library is located at 102 N. Main Street, at the north end of the Chambersburg business district. Coyle Free is a resource with tremendous potential for downtown revitalization and Chambersburg’s economic, educational and social development. It is like a people’s university under one roof.
The Franklin County Library System is undertaking a $5.5 million dollar renovation and expansion of the historic Coyle Free Library, the District Library of Franklin and Fulton Counties. Three million dollars will be available from funds supporting libraries, current assets, and grant opportunities; and 2.5 million dollars must be raised from the community. The result will be a new state-of-the-art library and discovery center that will attract people living throughout Franklin County and beyond. Coyle Free Library, already a pillar in the downtown Chambersburg district, will itself become an attractive destination. The Library building, currently distinctive, will become unique. It will better serve larger numbers of diverse people—children, youth, people with disabilities, adults, seniors—who are new to Franklin County or whose families have lived here for generations.
In 2015 over 100,000 people visited Coyle. The Library’s current resources include 70,000 books, 20 computers, free wi-fi, numerous movies, periodicals, and, most importantly, a library staff who teach, educate and inspire. The building is not a warehouse for storing books, but a place where educational programs are offered and information is distributed. Last year, staff offered 211 adult programs, 227 programs for children, and 36 programs for young adults. With respect to circulation of books and materials, adults checked out 44,737 print materials and 26,622 audio visual materials.
The current building can no longer accommodate the large number of users nor the varied programs that need to be offered by library staff. The need is great to enlarge and diversify the space. A fundraising campaign is underway, and now is the time to support this project.
To Google is Not Enough
Even though we live in a digitized world, remote access to library resources is not sufficient. Face-to-face human interaction is needed in a world where we are too often encouraged to be apart from each other. Libraries increasingly play an important social role in our communities because they bring people together. They can build a sense of community and encourage self-education by providing a place where people can meet, speak with staff, explore, learn and grow. Libraries promote the arts, provide business resources, design and implement summer reading programs, encourage early learning and literacy, while also providing access to e-books and online resources. Technology will continue to shape libraries, including Coyle Free Library.
But technology is not the only driver, as the following true story illustrates.
Library staff noticed a husband and wife visiting the library every day. Through frequent interactions the library learned that the husband was a veteran and that, due to a job loss, the couple was actually homeless. Over a period of 16 months they were able to use the library’s resources to research employment opportunities ultimately resulting in a new job. During that time the library staff assisted the wife in chronicling their journey (using library computers) which then became a published book! The couple was also nourished physically since food is often part of the numerous programs and events hosted at the library. Because library staff care deeply, they were able to get the couple the additional assistance they needed through other area nonprofit organizations. At the end of this year and half period the couple was able to purchase their own home. They shared that they never would have achieved such success without the library and the intervention of the staff.
The Coyle Free Library’s Greek-style portico with its six columns is distinctive. It sends a signal to visitors that this is an important civic building where significant activities take place. Since 1964, the Library has been in this building, once the town’s Post Office. The last major improvement took place in 1980 when a successful campaign added square footage, installed an elevator, and converted the basement into a children’s library.
The project will restore the exterior and other historic parts of the building. The renovation and building project will add new, flexible square footage to support the future needs of the Coyle Free Library and new programs of the Franklin County Library System. Some of the existing building will be demolished and Hazardous Materials Mitigation undertaken. After demolition, a complementary yet modern addition will be constructed to harmonize with the historic portion of the building. The campus also has what is believed to be the only remaining English Elm Tree in downtown Chambersburg. It stands tall and proud at the corner of King & Main.
The addition will include a theater on the Lower-Level (basement) to encourage small-group lectures, theater and cultural arts. The lower level will also be home to a conference room to seat up to 120 as well as a “creation station” studio. A reception and circulation area will be designed on the Main Level (first floor) to enhance the flow of library visitors through the building. It will feature a new Teen Room and Coyle Café. The children’s library, currently in the basement, will be moved to this main level and will feature a story time room, as well as an outdoor activity area. Children will look through the new wall of windows onto a newly designed backyard space full of nature and gardens.
The Second Level (second floor) will provide space for the fiction and nonfiction collections, library services, offices, an expanded genealogy center, a business center, huddle rooms and conference areas. Mezzanine seating will overlook the first floor. The top floor will be the Terrace Level consisting of a glass Conservatory and an outdoor terrace space, a “living roof.” The Conservatory will house an area for lectures, teas, and public and private events along with a kitchenette capable of catering small events. The living roof will bring light to the lower floors and reduce heating, ventilating and air conditioning costs, thus closing the gap between traditional building energy systems and net zero building energy systems. Furthermore, energy studies show that due to the efficiency of the new construction the utility bills for operating Coyle should not increase even though the size and occupancy of the building will increase.
The renovation and new construction will more than double the current Library’s 12,000 square feet (including the basement) to approximately 29,000 square feet. Free wi-fi will be available everywhere in the new facility, and library users will be able to check out tablets and laptops for use on all levels of the building. New “green” and common areas will complement the building’s exterior to create an attractive and inviting environment. All electrical and air-conditioning services will be integrated into each floor’s perimeter shelving system. This is an innovative system that will allow the ceilings to be uncluttered and spatially pleasing to the eye. The result will be a distraction free library that is uplifting, comfortable and inspirational.
A Needed and Long Awaited Project
For many years, improvements to Coyle Free Library have been at the top of town planning commissions’ list of recommendations for improving the quality of life in Chambersburg. More than ten years ago, renovation and new construction plans were formulated, but implementation was delayed when the U.S. economy declined precipitously. In the intervening years, estimated costs actually declined, and now is the propitious time to embark on the project, especially since public funding for libraries, grants and current assets will offset more than half of its total cost, 5.5 million dollars. In keeping with the hardworking spirit of Franklin County residents, the project is both progressive and frugal making good use of the old but intentionally positioning the library for a bold new future.
The Time to Act is Now
The Coyle Free Library exists because of the vision and generous efforts of Chambersburg residents. In 1891, the “ladies of the Afternoon Club” founded it. In 1924, a bequest from one of those ladies, Mrs. Blanche Coyle, built a stone building on the northwest corner of Queen and Second, so that the Library could serve residents more fully. Forty years later, the sale of that building enabled the Library to move into its present location, the old Post Office. No major improvements have been made since 1980; and yet, library services have grown to meet the changing needs of Chambersburg. In the spring of 2016 Coyle Free Library moved to a temporary location on Second in the former Jennings’ building so renovations and construction can begin. By the winter of 2018 Coyle will be open for business back at 102 North Main Street.
Supporting the Project
Support for the project will come from federal, state, and local grants; foundations; corporations; businesses; churches; individuals; and fundraising events. Those interested in supporting the project can make a one-time gift or pledge their support over five years. Gifts of all sizes are needed, it will take everyone’s support to renovate and expand this community treasure that serves everyone in our community. Sound stewardship has extended the life of the present building, but an ambitious project is needed. It is time to undertake a renovation and building project that will transform Coyle Free Library into a library for the 21st century. Expansion plans are sound, library funding is available to offset total costs, and a community fundraising plan is in place, with naming opportunities, large and small, throughout the building. The campaign will transform a community resource into a downtown destination and increase Chambersburg’s attractiveness to future employers and residents. A gift to the library is a gift to the community. Join us!