Woodstock Library trustees fight against petition drive to dissolve library district

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

A petition drive calling for the dissolution of the library district has trustees and supporters on the defensive while plans for a new building continue in earnest.

Friends of the Library members have blanketed social media warning people the library faces uncertain times if a referendum to dissolve the district passes.

Supporters of the referendum say the Town Board can take over the library and appoint a new board to run it, but detractors say there is no plan in place and no guarantees.

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“For 71 years the Woodstock Library struggled every year to fund itself. It depended on the Library Fair for 80 percent of its yearly budget,” says one post, noting voters created a special library district, “the best model for sustainable funding. Let’s not go back.”

Another simply says “Do not Brexit, Woodstock. We are more original than that,” referring to Great Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, a move its citizens later regretted.

“Your trustees are not tearing down the library,” said Director Jessica Kerr in an open letter to patrons. “They are hoping to provide you a plan that will excite and inspire you.”

Kerr said planning for a better library is not going to be accomplished with mudslinging or personal attacks. “We are going to accomplish this with honest communication and trust building.”

Former Trustee John Ludwig, who organized the petition drive with about a dozen others, said there are 197 municipal libraries in the state. Converting to a town-run library is not some mystery. “It’s done all over the state,” Ludwig said, adding that funding will not be abruptly cut off.

The petition drive is a response to those who feel the library has gone against the wishes of the people expressed in a recent survey to renovate the current building rather than build a new one. “If people are interested in what would come next they can start a conversation with town government,” he said. “We’re doing it because we want the library to survive and do better.”

While trustees and Friends of the Library members say a switch to a municipal library will remove the public’s ability to vote on the budget, Ludwig counters it is not much of a vote, since it is a simple “yes” or “no” on the bottom line and not specifics. “It’s a flawed system,” he said.

Building Committee Chair Jill Fisher defended trustees’ actions as she spoke at the June 12 Town Board meeting. “I have only been on the board three years, but I am aware of all the work that has been done for 12 years to try and deal with issues faced by the facility that our library is using to try and serve the community’s needs,” Fisher said. “It’s just an obsolete building. Something has to be done. We’ve done our due diligence. We’ve hired professionals. If we thought we could renovate that building and do something decent with an add-on, we would do that.”

Fisher said opponents of a new building will refer to a survey showing 70 percent of the population is against the plan, but they don’t know about the building’s current conditions. “The trustees are the ones who have really tried to grapple with this issue,” she said.

Forging ahead with building plans

Petitions must be submitted to the Town Clerk by August 1. Organizers are aiming for 700 signatures, though only 10 percent of registered voters, or 452 are needed.

Still, trustees continue with plans to choose an architect and present options to library patrons.

Trustees received proposals from 12 architects, five of whom live and work in Woodstock, library board President Dorothea Marcus said. “We’re very gratified that the architects, including the local ones who are aware of the most recent controversy, were still willing to put in their proposal and have confidence in our moving forward,” she told the Town Board.

Trustees will meet in executive session June 18 to narrow the proposals down to three finalists. Those will be announced at the June 21 board meeting at the library at 7 p.m. Each finalist will receive a $5000 honorarium to present sketches and models to present to the public.

On August 25, the library will unveil the finalists’ proposals at the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center.

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