For the Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz, 2020 was supposed to be a banner year: the centenary of the 18th-century stone building’s opening to the public. Plenty of special “100 Years at 93 Main Street” events were planned, including the revelation of the structure’s original date of construction, based on a dendrochronology study of wooden beams. Library Board members had high hopes that by the year’s end, a recently drafted three-year Master Plan would have been officially adopted and a design for physical expansion of the building finalized. Then Covid-19 struck, and none of those things happened. Cherished annual events such as the end-of-summer Library Fair had to be canceled as well.
While the pandemic isn’t over yet, and access to the stacks is still limited and programs still cut way back, the Elting Library has done a remarkable job of landing on its feet following nearly a year of closure. At last Thursday’s combined annual Library Association meeting and the first meeting of the year for the board, the treasurer’s report was able to project income to match expenses for 2021. Although cancellation of popular fundraising events cut income streams by about $30,000 last year, individual donations and memorial gifts netted about $27,000, and operating expenses were significantly lower due to the forced cutbacks in services. A $62,000 federal Payroll Protection Plan loan – probably forgivable, though that hasn’t yet been confirmed – enabled the library to continue paying salaries throughout the period, with staff members devoting their energies to adapting programming to remote digital platforms.
While the plan for building expansion was put on hold, three years of work on replacing the stone wall in front of 93 Main (built in 1964, and beginning to collapse) finally reached completion in 2020. A time capsule with centenary mementos was buried behind the new wall, to be unearthed next time it needs replacement – projected in the operations manager’s report at about 65 years in the future. Grant funding enabled the library to upgrade its HVAC system, tripling the rate at which air inside the building is replaced. A new phone system and a VPN connection were installed and Wi-Fi access upgraded.
The budget for 2021 includes long-needed repairs to the building’s heating system and expanded subscriptions to streaming services, which seem likely to remain an important feature of the post-Covid “new normal” for accessing information. At the January 28 meeting, the board also approved the expenditure of up to $4,000 to enhance computer workstations for children, including literacy-focused hardware and software from AWE Learning. “I’m always jealous when I visit another library that has this,” said operations manager Jesse Chance.
The transition from pandemic-adaptation mode back to business-as-usual will occur on the watch of a new director, with John Giralico slated to retire in April 2021 after 47 years of service in that post. Board president Bob Miller reported that the search committee for Giralico’s successor was “going to be selecting finalists” and scheduling Zoom meetings with them within the next couple of months. A negotiating team was established to work out the terms of employment and a transition committee to help orient the chosen candidate.
The board voted to add a new member, Carol Auer, and to reappoint for another three years all members whose terms were expiring: Stephen Bergstein, Ron Fields, Laurie Hlavaty and June Wheeler. All current officers were reappointed for 2021: Miller as president, Sarah Holsted as vice president, Wheeler as second vice president, Alison Nash as secretary and Paul Edlund as treasurer.
The board also agreed to adopt an updated Mission Statement for the library, framing it as a community resource with an intent to serve a broader demographic. The former version read, “The mission of the Elting Memorial Library will be to provide and maintain public library service to all residents of New Paltz and to promote knowledge, understanding and an appreciation of literature through all media forms and information technology, as the library believes an informed populace is the bulwark of democracy.” The new language restates the mission as “to promote literacy, build community and inspire lifelong learning. The library’s extensive collections, unique historical holdings, cultural programs, services and events, provided in a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere, shall be an accessible resource for all.” Said Miller of the change, “It’s a little meaner, a little meaner and sounds a little more modern.”
To learn more about the many services available from the Elting Memorial Library, and find links to access them online, visit www.eltinglibrary.org.