‘Read’ rack is a statement for Athenaeum

Bike rack on Court Street outside the Westfield Athenaeum

WESTFIELD — The new bike rack outside the Athenaeum says “read,” but Guy McLain’s plans are bigger than that.

Bike rack on Court Street outside the Westfield Athenaeum

The Westfield Athenaeum hopes its new “READ” bike rack will encourage children to bicycle to the library and increase its visibility on Court Street. (HOPE E. TREMBLAY/THE WESTFIELD NEWS)

McLain, the executive director of the nonprofit library and museum on Park Square, said he hopes that in addition to serving bicyclists, the new installation will be a prominent advertisement for the library.

“We’re trying to really upgrade the looks outside, too,” McLain said. He said he wants to “get people’s attention when they go by, and remind people we’re here.”

The Athenaeum is more than a reading room, McLain said. It’s also a historical museum and an art gallery, two missions he hopes to emphasize as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Both large rooms on the Park Square side of the building are currently closed off, one of which is under renovation.

Bookcases have been removed from two walls of the reading room, to be replaced by large, glass display cases. McLain said he wants to use the space to showcase the best items from the Athenaeum’s Edwin Smith Historical Museum.

Many patrons don’t realize that the Athenaeum has an extensive historical collection, McLain said. That’s because the historical museum is tucked away on the second floor, in a non-handicap-accessible part of the building. The museum is open only limited hours, as it needs to be staffed separately.

The renovation will bring artifacts from Westfield’s history into the main part of the building, open whenever the library is. The room will still have comfortable seating and will be available as a quiet reading room.

The other large room off the main foyer is the Jasper Rand Art Gallery. McLain said when the gallery reopens, he hopes to attract high-profile, regional artists for longer shows, rather than the local, month-long exhibits that the Athenaeum previously hosted.

McLain, who was director of the history museum at the Springfield Museums before taking the top job at the Athenaeum in February, said the art gallery and historical museum are just as much a part of the Athenaeum’s heritage and core mission as the library. He said there’s no reason the Westfield institution can’t have museum-quality exhibits.

The renewed emphasis on art may even extend to the outdoors, McLain added. He’s looking at ways to beautify the building itself — perhaps with decorative lights. Pointing to the lawn outside the Children’s Library, he said that could be the perfect spot for a temporary outdoor sculpture exhibit.

A permanent piece of public art itself, the “read” rack was installed on July 28, after being crafted by local artist Michael Poole. Alongside the blue letters, it features the outline of a “Westfield black squirrel” reading a book. Including installation costs, the bike rack cost the Athenaeum $3,000, some of which came from grants.

The new bike rack is similar to the “01085” bike rack in front of Circuit Coffee. McLain said he wanted another bike rack closer to the Children’s Library entrance on Court Street.

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