Thursday, July 2, 2020
Community Library to Toast Makeover, Now that the Battle of the Chairs is Over
Jenny Emery Davidson said the library contains more than 100,000 items, if you count the non-circulating items in the Regional History Library.
Friday, January 10, 2020


Just before Thanksgiving more than 60 children and adults crowded into The Treehouse, a new children’s reading room that hangs over the Community Library’s new outdoor plaza abutting Fourth and Walnut streets.

Late morning sunlight streamed through the large picture windows and Baldy glistened under a blanket of fresh snow as the children and adults took an armchair safari to Mozambique’s Gorongoza National Park led by a park ranger and local naturalist Ann Christensen, who has visited the park.

The library’s Executive Director Jenny Emery Davidson beamed as she watched the children plant themselves on the heated floor

The Children’s Treehouse is just one of several new niches that look out onto Ketchum and the surrounding mountains.

“It’s just what we wanted to achieve,” she said. “It’s simple in execution yet magical in effect. It offers the children a chance to be in a high perch nestled in among the treetops looking out onto Baldy. And I hope it sparks plenty of daydreaming and imagination.”

The Children’s Treehouse is among the more visible aspects of the library’s $13.5 million makeover,  which is nearly completed.

Librarians are inviting the community to celebrate the library’s renewal from 4 to 6 p.m. today—Friday, Jan. 10. There’ll be cupcakes and more as patrons have the opportunity to tour the reimagined facility.

“My favorite is the foyer. You walk through the doors and take in the Chihuly vessels and it’s like ‘Ahhhh,’ ” said Roger Gould.

The Community Library has changed quite a bit from the original one that the Community Library Association of Triumph, Ketchum and Sun Valley began building in 1956.

It’s not hard to notice many of the remodeled spaces, including the lecture room which was expanded to seat 200 under a wall nook boasting “a mountain” of oversized and collectible books.

Some aspects of the renovation are less obvious but impactful.

  • For one, the new roof doesn’t leak. “It was a leaky roof that actually jumpstarted the project,” said Davidson. “We lost some collections, including CDs and DVDs, due to a 40-year-old roof that had served its time. We decided we didn’t want to stop with the roof—that we wanted to give the entire library a makeover.
  • The floor has been reinforced with concrete fillings. Not only was the original floor not strong enough to hold the load of books but, in some places, it was not as deep as it needed to be.
  • Lighting has been improved throughout the library. “There were areas of gathering darkness that were not inviting,” said Davidson. “They didn’t invite people to linger in those areas to appreciate the collections. Engineer Paul Stoops did such a good job that we now have people commenting on the ceiling. The ceiling is not new. It’s just that you can see it now with the help of suspended lights that make it more visible.”

    In addition, Davidson said, the electrical system, which took on the appearance of a patchwork quilt as the library expanded over the years, has been upgraded.

    The Children’s Library sports trees and frog-shaped chairs bent on sparking children’s imaginations.

    “We often saw electricians come out of the crawlspace with bewildered looks on their faces over what they had to unwind.”


    Jenny Emery Davidson said the community library has an important role to play with people’s increasing longing for shared spaces that are becoming increasingly rare.

  • Windows and walkways have been added to enhance the library with more natural lighting. “People here like the outdoors and they like to think—they like cerebral mental exercises,” said Davidson. “So, the windows offer a symbolic statement pairing the life of the mind and the life of the natural world.”
  • The new automated system sorts books into fiction, nonfiction, children’s audiotapes and books on hold. It also allows self-checkout. This has enabled the library to utilize employees differently to expand its operating hours. The Children’s Library is now open until 8 p.m. along with the rest of the library, rather than closing at 6 p.m. And the library is open from 1 to 5 p.m. on Suddenly Sundays! during which it offers lectures and other special events.
  • The state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment in the lecture room replaces a projection system that was set up in a kitchen sink. It boasts a rear projection screen so speakers don’t cast a shadow on the screen when they stand in front of it. And the library has had people from as far away as Argentina log into its livestreaming.

    “It allows people to stay connected to the library when you’re not in town,” said Davidson. “It enables central Idaho to be a place where we wrangle with current issues and big issues.”

    Davidson said librarians try to be nimble and creative in lining up speakers: “We identify topics we think are important and bring in experts to address them. We like to bring authors that have written about Idaho or are from Idaho, like Tara Westover.

    “The Blaine County School District wants to bring in Jamie Vollmer, author of “Schools Cannot Do it Alone.” Last year John Kerry reached out to us because he had a new book. This year the Hailey Climate Action Coalition wanted to connect him with students so we got him again. And we will have Jamie Ford, the author of New York Times bestseller “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” speak in conjunction with our upcoming project on Minidoka, which kicks off Jan. 31.”

  • If the Community Library is, as Davidson puts it, the community’s living room, the new expansivecovered entrance at the front has become the community’s front porch. Since it opened in July,people have used it to chat. They’ve sat on its walls to read books. They use it to take cell phone calls, and they use it to await rides before heading down a wheelchair ramp out onto heated sidewalks that have eliminated fear of slipping on ice

    Spin’s Courtyard off the lecture hall has been transformed from unusable space to a small patio  anchored by a Ponderosa pine and Oakley stone where the grandson of a Basque boarding house owner in Hailey cooked up paella during September’s Ernest Hemingway seminar.

    During Lit Walk Jana Arnold called down from the Hemingway Veranda trying to lure passers-by to join her on a soapbox. And the Children’s Library plaza and other outdoor nooks have yet to show what they might be used for.

  • The remodel provided climate-controlled archives for the newly conceptualized Jeanne Rodger Lane Regional History Library in what used to be a basement storage room. It also provides a workspace for librarians to curate materials, such the recent donation of hundreds of Hemingway materials, including a matador’s costume and original letters and photographs.

    Librarians can prepare exhibits for the Regional History Museum in Ketchum’s Forest Service Park there. And they are currently readying an exhibit of artifacts from Japanese families incarcerated at Minidoka, Topaz and other relocation centers to replace Dale Chihuly’s Ulysses Cylinders display, which the glassblower visited in person over Christmas.

  • The Betty Olsen Carr Regional History Reading Room will provide a place for people to peruse the library’s regional history collection and submit research requests.

“We get a range of inquiries—everything from genealogy to a team of people researching  Hemingway material for a Ken Burns documentary due out in 2021,” said Davidson.

In the process of remodeling, librarians found out how much overlooked things mean to some patrons. While the fireplace in the center of the library was a non-negotiable, there was heated discussion about the chairs in front of the fireplace.

Some said the beaten down chairs, which showed their ribs, were the soul of the library and couldn’t go away. Others lobbied for upright chairs.

“We solved it by keeping some of the old chairs, although we recovered them, and providing upright chairs for the other side of the fireplace,” said Davidson.

The teen rooms have achieved their objective of attracting more teens to the library. And the small conference rooms spread throughout the library are rarely empty, nor are the computers with high-speed internet.

Some 500 people a day visited the library over the holidays—part of the 125,000-plus visitors expected to visit it over the coming year.

People from as far away as South Africa have checked out books from the library’s 85,000 items in circulation—a collection much bigger than you’d see in most libraries in communities the size of Sun Valley and Ketchum. (The library has several books from its original collection, including “A Gentleman’s Agreement,” the 103rd book to be entered into the system).

And children from England and the Middle East have taken part in its summer reading program.

“It’s deeply rewarding to see how many people seem to think this is a destination library,” said Davidson. “And we hope what we’ve created will energize the community in even more ways.”


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