Jonesing for a cozy library

By Lindsey Tulloch

Just around the corner from the bustle of Pleasant Street – with stately chimneys peeking out from behind the surrounding trees – sits the Jones Library.

In stark contrast to the towering brick façade of the W. E. B. Du Bois Library, the Jones Library immediately feels more accessible. It’s an especially welcome refuge on a blustery winter afternoon.

Walking inside the large front door evokes the feeling of entering the home of a good friend. The library is so homey, in fact, that many people are surprised to learn that it was never anyone’s personal residence.

Built in 1927, the library was named for its benefactor, Amherst native Samuel Minot Jones. Its reading materials had previously been housed in the town hall and then in Amherst House, it was the first building constructed exclusively as a reading center. As the library moves into its 85th year of operation, business is still going strong.

Newly-appointed library director Sharon Sharry knows the importance of a haven for readers.

“I think of public libraries as very much the town’s living room,” she said. “There’s a huge contingent of people who come to the library and that’s their social activity for the day. They’re going to meet their neighbors, they’re going to talk politics, they’re going to let their kids play.”

The Jones Library offers ample space for all of the above, and then some. It is comprised of three floors, which include a career center, a kid-friendly children’s room and an ESL (English as a second language) center. The center provides one-on-one instruction in English language and literacy.

There are computers for public use, spaces for meetings and nooks for studying, including specially marked quiet areas. There are sections for every genre of book imaginable, as well as DVDs, magazines, newspapers and books on tape. The expansive floor plan might seem like a maze at first, but Sharry maintains that that’s part of the excitement.

“Don’t be afraid to wander,” she advised new patrons. “And if you have any questions, always ask.”

In the few short months she’s been the library’s director, Sharry has already done a great deal to maintain a creative, productive and enjoyable atmosphere. She cites a range of different activities offered at the library, including an ESL conversation circle, poetry discussions and a ukulele jam.

The children’s program, too, is flourishing. It boasts craft activities, a chess club, a music series and story times in both English and Spanish.

One of the main reasons the Jones Library is such an appropriate community center is that it unites the past, present and future of Amherst. The Special Collections department focuses on the town’s history and serves as a source of Amherst pride. The Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost exhibits are especially noteworthy, highlighting two poets with strong ties to the Amherst area.

The library is also abuzz with present-day creativity. In the Burnett Gallery, local artists may showcase their contemporary work. In addition, the library is known for hosting the jubilat/Jones reading series, for which there are six readings annually: three each in fall and spring.

Sharry emphasized the need to keep moving forward toward the future and to “get back into the swing of things.”

“We’re going to start offering an adult book discussion,” she said, adding that she believes it will be the first in Jones Library history. “The theme is going to be politics, and since it’s an election year, I think it will be very timely.”

The group’s first topic of discussion will be Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men.”

Other upcoming events include the annual Valentine’s Day fundraiser put on by the Friends of the Jones Library – its volunteers and supporters. This event takes the form of a silent auction and the prizes are beautifully decorated gift baskets containing books, chocolate and other trinkets. This event is both beneficial to the library and popular with Amherst residents, allowing everyone to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a heartwarming way.

For even more events and ongoing programs, there is a calendar available on the library’s website:

Through the years, one thing has remained clear: the Jones Library is the essence of Amherst. No matter how far technology advances and how popular e-books become in the future, the sense of community and town pride provided by the library will always be important. Here’s to another 85 years.

Lindsey Tulloch can be reached at [email protected]