Library Commission Eyes Balch Expansion

The success of Leesburg’s Thomas Balch Library may soon come at a cost.

Members of the library’s advisory commission recently presented the Town Council with its annual report, which highlighted the future need for

The Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg(Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)
The Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg(Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)

expansion of the history and genealogy library.

“Balch’s success in attracting valuable archival collections has stretched its archival storage space to capacity,” the report states. “Additionally, the growing collection of books used as references and collections of genealogical material are beginning to exceed shelf capacity.”

It’s a reality Library Director Alexandra Gressitt deals with on a daily basis. She’s personally added in bookshelves to stretch available space for books. The room containing periodicals is “pretty well jammed” and while the library has been the recipient of some great collections, it lacks sufficient oversize storage space to contain all the materials that could be donated.

The Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg Virginia. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)
The Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg Virginia.
(Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)

“At this point we don’t have 10 years of growth,” she said. “We don’t really have five years of growth.”

It’s not just shelf and storage space that is lacking; so is exhibit space. Gressitt notes the exhibit space in the cases on the library’s upper floor is booked into 2018. Space for the exhibition of artwork and photographs in the lower level is also booked for the foreseeable future.

And the library’s meeting room, added during the 2000 expansion when Gressitt estimates the library square footage just about doubled in size, also has been in demand. She points to a recent event on Irish genealogy, where the 85 people in attendance had to utilize overflow space to be accommodated. Had they had the extra room, Gressitt believes about 130 tickets could have been sold for the event.

“We’ve outgrown the space footprint we have,” she said.

Stephanie Walters looks for a book in one of the many book selves at the Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)
Stephanie Walters looks for a book in one of the many book selves at the Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)

But she is quick to point out the discussion of expansion is in the extremely early stages, with no planning or research done yet by town staff regarding what such a project would look like, nor how much it would cost.

“The discussion right now is the recognition that the library has been successful, space is needed and that’s where they are right now. The rationale is they would like [Balch] to be successful,” Gressitt said of the commission’s discussions.

The library was expanded in 2000, but as Thomas Balch Library Commission Chairman Jim Hershman said, “What was enough then, isn’t enough now.”

He attributed the need for more space in part to Gressitt’s success in gathering resource materials for collections. The commissioners are very much in favor of expansion, he said, and late last year began looking at a neighboring property to the west that could make a natural expansion for the library. As part of the commissioners’ 10-year vision, “we want to see it become a really well-known research center that would be a benefit for the town,” Hershman said.

Gressitt said she hopes to use the recent formation of the Thomas Balch Library Endowment Foundation, thanks to a bequest of more than $600,000 by library volunteer Virginia Bowie, as a possible resource for expansion.

Senior Reporter Margaret Morton contributed to this article.

krodriguez@loudounnow.com

Thomas Balch Library (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)
Thomas Balch Library
(Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)

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