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04/07/2021 08:30 AM

Scranton Library Puts Up Tent for Fun in the Shade

Supporters and library staff look on as Joe Battipaglia installs a tent at the E.C. Scranton Library, which will hopefully facilitate a bevy of programs and outdoor activities.Photo by Jesse Williams/The Source

For some, the summer months are all about being outside, taking in the sunlight and air. For others, those warm, school-free months are best spent catching up on activities and hobbies, learning a new skill or joining a club.

In Madison, the E.C Scranton Memorial library is asking: Why not both?

Funded by the Scranton Library Friends group, last week library officials oversaw the installation of a new piece of infrastructure: a large, state-of-the art outdoor tent that will hopefully guarantee that Scranton patrons will have access to some level of in-person programs and other opportunities beginning early this summer.

“It will be just a boon to our whole community,” said Scranton Director Sunnie Scarpa. “For now, COVID is making it very urgent for us to have that space. But as COVID gets better, then it helps us actually fulfill our original purposes for this space.”

Residents shouldn’t expect to see these new programs just yet—the first event scheduled under the eaves of the new tent isn’t until the end of May—but Scarpa said once staff have had some planning time and safety measures can be fully implemented, the possibilities are essentially endless.

“We’re starting to have some really exciting discussion in house...we just don’t have an exact timeline right now.”

The opportunity to put up a tent grew out of Friends President Betsey Piner’s search for a way to hold used book sales, which are important in helping fund the library and its work, under the still-looming shadow of the pandemic.

Piner said she was approached by “an individual” with a somewhat spontaneous donation of $3,000, which was in appreciation for the friends group’s continuous support of Scranton while it was still in its temporary location.

“All of the sudden I had a lightbulb go off, and I realized that maybe we could have a tent,” she said. “Thereby regardless of what the virus is doing...we could have book sales and we could be independent and autonomous of the library. We wouldn’t need to use the inside space.”

With the estimate for an appropriate tent coming in at $12,000, Piner said she then approached Mike Johnson of the Johnson Family Foundation, who personally gifted another $5,000. The Madison Foundation doubled its usual $2,000 grant just to make sure the tent would be funded, which Piner said “brought tears to my eyes.”

“Absolutely heartwarming, overwhelming,” she said.

The friends group’s book sale will in fact be the first event to christen the tent, held over Memorial Day weekend in conjunction with the Madison Chamber of Commerce’s antique and craft sale. Piner said the timing was purposeful, and aligned with the goal of making library events part of the larger downtown Madison scene. That will include extensive advertising ahead of this event, which will hopefully bring more people downtown and help make up for time lost during the pandemic.

“We’re trying to get as much out there to tell people that we are back and better than ever,” Piner said.

The larger purpose of the tent, which is being gifted to the library, and won’t be owned by the friends group, is to continue providing residents with more and new opportunities to learn, socialize, and have fun, Scarpa said. Programs like an ecologically minded pollinator pathways exploration (incorporating the library’s own garden), stargazing events, and outdoor explorers for kids are all things that will be enhanced by being outdoors.

But Scarpa added that many traditionally indoor programs like card games for teens, dancing for kids (“Toddler Tango”), and adult paint nights (possibly with a BYOB wine component) can take place in the tent, and possibly will have an accelerated timeline as the library is still looking at a year or more before offering full in-person, indoors programming.

Additionally, the tent will eventually become another space that the library can rent out to community members for their own events, company retreats, or other celebrations.

With retractable wind-screens on the sides and a heater in the tent, Scarpa promised that only a significant weather event would prevent these types of events from happening, and that a little cold or drizzle wouldn’t stop people from having some outdoor fun this summer.

“Having an outside component will always be an asset,” Scarpa said. “It’s a win-win.”

From left, Madison Foundation Executive Director Jenny Simpson, Scranton Library Director Sunnie Scarpa, Madison Foundation past President Renee Pallenberg, and Scranton Library Friends President Betsey Piner check out the new tent at the library. Photo by Jesse Williams/The Source