A library’s next chapter spurs contention in community
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.
The front of the Woodstock Library, the future of which is the focus of a debate.