The Woodstock Library’s been one of the more contentious library districts in the region, battling for support as dreams of a space to match its reputation rise into the millions of dollars.
How’ve they been doing during the pandemic and its quarantine measures? The number of people on the digital meeting May 21, some pictured and others watching silently, reached a couple of dozen. Things started off with a minute of silence for “reflection on why we’re here,” including the library’s service to their community. A Tibetan prayer bell knelled at the silence’s end.
Public be Heard was short. Gay Leonhardt, co-author of a comprehensive survey of community responses to the library board’s plans to replace the library’s current building that received nearly 750 responses three years ago (but was never accepted by the library board), asked whether the board would be voting to put a bond up for voting in November. The board replied that such a matter would be discussed at their meeting in the latter half of June.
Leonhardt asked about a memorandum of understanding she’d heard was in the works between the library board and town board. Would discussion be opened up, when the time comes, “so everyone feels free to speak.”
Library board president Dorothea Marcus said any discussion of the MOU would be “premature” at the moment. There’s “been nothing substantive yet,” and not even the boards involved have been made of discussions.
Much of the first hour of the meeting was taken up with discussion of the library’s plans for reopening in the coming months, which are in line with protocols for libraries. Talked about were the construction of plastic barriers at the check-out desk, training for all staff on new systems and pandemic safety, a phase of curbside service for those ordering materials, and then visitation to the library by appointment.
Nastiness has become toxic
Librarian Jessica Kerr noted how “everything’s been really weird” since the board’s last online meeting in late April. She pointed out how with better analytics the library’s collection can be weeded to allow for more e-books and less works that don’t circulate much moving forward.
“MHLS will restart lending hen all 44 of its libraries are ready,” she added. “Reopenings will be coordinated by county.”
After noting the library’s needs regarding face masks, plastic gloves, hand sanitizer and other materials moving forward, Kerr brought up a recent letter to the editor that she felt was close to libel and felt like harassment.
“The nastiness surrounding this library has become so toxic it’s not appropriate,” she added. “We’re trying to serve our community.”
Town board member Laura Ricci chimed in about how those in any position in Woodstock “needs to build a thick skin” since people in Woodstock “can be less than wonderful.”
Subsequent discussion suggested the matter be moved to the library board’s communications and personnel committees.
Subsequent discussion of budget matters reiterated that Kerr has been working part-time this year, and yielded to the building committee’s report on what’s happening with plans for a new library, which is nearing the end of a design and development phase that’s paid out over $130,000 to architect Stephen Tilly, and $45,000 to a cost consultant.
Board member Howard Kagen, who heads the building committee, spoke about talk of savings through pre-fab elements for construction. Tilly has offered a “pause” in payments due to the pandemic’s economic collapse, and is working to establish a sense of non-construction costs for the new library in the coming week. The idea, he added, would be to “have the numbers coming in from this phase be within x percentage of what the goal will be before we go out to bid.”
Ideas for the library’s future
In a separate discussion after the meeting, former library board member John Ludwig, a leading figure in the ad-hoc group Library Alliance that has opposed the methodology and goal of the library board’s replacement plans, pointed out discrepancies between the board’s estimates of a replacement cost and what he’s figured would cost upwards of $7 million.
Ludwig, who served as the chairman of the Woodstock Planning Board for years, particularly questioned the library board’s lack of transparency regarding its plans, as well as their inability to work with community ideas for the library’s future. He noted their ignoring of the 2017 survey they had originally welcomed, as well as the fact that they’ve made only two presentations on Tilley’s architectural plans, and the replacement’s overall cost, since summer of 2018.
The unanswered questions raised last week about bonding and a memorandum of understanding with the Woodstock town board are interrelated. The library would have to put up a bond through town auspices, despite being a special library district that operates autonomously, and the MOU would be necessary to allow for the library’s request to circumvent the process of board approvals, and their cost.
To date, the library has raised approximately $200,000 toward its building plans, plus a large matching grant for construction purposes, should they get there. As a special district, the library is guaranteed approximately $660,000 per year, even should their budget be voted down by the public.
“You’d think they would present their plans enthusiastically to the town board, to the chamber of commerce,” Ludwig said. “I don’t think they have the money for what they want to do.”
The next full library board meeting, where a decision regarding bonding for the controversial building plans has been promised for discussion, is set for 7 p.m. on June 18. Further discussions of those matters, and the slander worries Kerr raised, were expected to come up either this Thursday, May 28, at a Communications Committee meeting set to start at 7 p.m., or at a Building Committee meeting set for June 7 at 4 p.m.
Contact Jessica Kerr at the library to get virtual access to library board meetings.