A li­brary’s next chap­ter spurs con­tention in com­mu­nity

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - ALBANY COUNTY - DONNA LIQUORI Bi­b­liofiles — —

Wood­stock’s li­brary is set back a bit from busy Tinker Street and its his­tory dates back over 100 years. The cur­rent build­ing is from the 1960s, the pe­riod that Wood­stock got its vibe and the rea­son tourists flock here seek­ing its en­ergy. Lo­cals turn down Li­brary Lane to re­turn their books and DVDS and maybe make use of the ex­cel­lent Wifi.

I showed up to fin­ish some work on a re­cent Fri­day af­ter­noon while pass­ing through. I couldn’t find a space to sit. As charm­ing and cozy as the li­brary is, there wasn’t a desk or even a chair for me.

From my car in the park­ing lot, I used the Wi-fi to fin­ish my work. Li­braries have be­come much more than places to take out a book. They’ve be­come in­te­gral spa­ces for com­mu­ni­ties, where all are wel­come, where some peo­ple telecom­mute and oth­ers search for jobs. Many have grown in re­sponse to their pa­trons’ needs and grow­ing com­mu­ni­ties. Some have not changed very much at all.

“Cur­rently we are se­verely lack­ing space for pro­gram­ing,” di­rec­tor Jes­sica Kerr said. “We have space for our col­lec­tions, but we don’t have peo­ple space.”

Peo­ple love this li­brary. It’s ev­i­dent from the im­pas­sioned road­side signs that have cropped up around Wood­stock and il­lus­trate a con­tentious battle this elec­tion sea­son. It’s an is­sue a lot of com­mu­ni­ties can re­late to – whether to keep the old, charm­ing his­tor­i­cal li­brary or build some­thing with much-needed ameni­ties.

In­side the li­brary — it­self a hodge­podge of ad­di­tions — there are three mod­els for a new li­brary. Each one is mod­ern, but some be­lieve they are too much. Some love them. On a flip chart to col­lect pub­lic in­put, some­one has writ­ten “Green & Sus­tain­able makes sense. Old and mouldy, not so much.”

Some pa­trons who dis­like the de­signs — re­quir­ing the old li­brary to be torn down (one pre­serves the old­est part of the li­brary, cur­rently a staff of­fice and be­lieved to date back to 1812) — pe­ti­tioned to put a ref­er­en­dum to lo­cal vot­ers to change the li­brary’s cur­rent form of gover­nance. The mea­sure could lead to the dis­solv­ing of the ex­ist­ing li­brary district the Wood­stock Pub­lic Li­brary District and its in­cor­po­ra­tion as a mu­nic­i­pal li­brary un­der Town Board su­per­vi­sion.

On the back of Tues­day’s bal­lot, vot­ers can check yes or no on the ref­er­en­dum ques­tion.

Those want­ing the li­brary dis­solved say the cur­rent trustees aren’t re­spon­sive to the com­mu­nity. John Lud­wig, a for­mer trustee who led the pe­ti­tion cam­paign, said the trustees had their chance and failed, and now the li­brary should be placed in new hands.

No one dis­putes that the li­brary needs ma­jor up­grades. There are ac­tual alu­minum pans sit­ting on top of shelves to pro­tect the books from drip­ping air con­di­tion­ers. Let that sink in for a minute. Alu­minum pans that fill with wa­ter. On top of books.

“The build­ing’s in very poor con­di­tion. And it’s very tight. The trustees have not taken care of the build­ing. The trustees have been in charge for 28 years,” Lud­wig said.

“We just think they’re go­ing a lit­tle too far tear­ing it down. They want to spend at least $5 mil­lion dol­lars.” He said a bet­ter op­tion would be to cre­ate an ad­di­tion in the back and ren­o­vate

the ex­ist­ing build­ing, some­thing he be­lieves could be done cheaper.

“Keep the charm,” he said. “It’s a charm­ing place,” Lud­wig said.

Kerr said it’s un­clear how things will shake out if the cit­i­zens of Wood­stock vote to dis­solve the li­brary district, which would in turn dis­solve the board. In a June let­ter to the com­mu­nity, Kerr wrote “I see a Li­brary Board of Trustees that is ded­i­cat­ing enor­mous amounts of time and work to pro­vide a plan. They are work­ing de­lib­er­ately and fru­gally, to show the com­mu­nity an idea for what a new Li­brary can of­fer Wood­stock.”

As for the ref­er­en­dum cam­paign: “It has cre­ated a huge amount of di­vi­sive­ness in our com­mu­nity and that’s no good es­pe­cially in the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate na­tion­ally and at the state level,” she said.

Kerr said the li­brary re­cently re­did its plan of ser­vice and items at the top of the list in­cluded high­light­ing his­tor­i­cal col­lec­tions, sup­port­ing re­mote work­ers and cre­ative folks. And sim­ply hav­ing places to put things. Cur­rently, the li­brary isn’t com­pletely in line with the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act. When chil­dren’s pro­gram­ing is go­ing on up­stairs, the folks at the com­put­ers are dis­rupted. “It’s a loud place, much louder than it makes sense to be.”

Dorothea Mar­cus, the pres­i­dent of the board of trustees, said the board, made up of vol­un­teers, have a fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity to the town. They’ve done their due dili­gence and are stick­ing by their plan for a new li­brary. How­ever, she em­pha­sized that the plans are not fi­nal­ized.

“If the ref­er­en­dum is de­feated, we’re very open to still com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the pub­lic. We might scale down … the size of the de­signs, cre­ate more park­ing, have the price tag be lower.”

But she said dis­man­tling the gover­nance of the li­brary is dras­tic.

“When you talk about Wood­stock, we’re the town of peace and love, but we’re also the town of very strong opin­ions.”

She called the cur­rent form of gover­nance the spe­cial district li­brary the gold stan­dard. “It pro­vides the most sus­tain­able fund­ing” be­cause its bud­get is voted on, and the board would be elected by the pub­lic. It would not be tied to other bud­gets.

“It’s un­prece­dented,” said Mar­cus, of the ref­er­en­dum. “It would be like a down­grade for the Wood­stock li­brary and the com­mu­nity.”

The build­ing’s been added onto, but not much has been done in 30 years to give the li­brary more space, Mar­cus said. “It’s ba­si­cally kind of a Franken­build­ing.”

This is a tough one. I find my­self go­ing back and forth, see­ing the point of both groups, but I agree with the trustees. Dis­solv­ing the Wood­stock Pub­lic Li­brary District could pos­si­bly de­lay any im­prove­ments. This isn’t a com­fort­able place; the com­mu­nity has out­grown the build­ing. Wood­stock vot­ers will ul­ti­mately have to make the call, but all I can say is that I hope that in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture, when I need a li­brary down that way, I’m not stuck in the park­ing lot working­inmy car.

Courtesy of the Wood­stock Li­brary

The front of the Wood­stock Li­brary, the fu­ture of which is the fo­cus of a de­bate.

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