ANNUAL REPORT OF THE ACTING DIRECTOR
GLOUCESTER LYCEUM & SAWYER FREE LIBRAR
It is with great pride this year that I present the Annual Report of the Library Director. It is a saga of tenacity, energy, and a coming together. Its telling engenders pride in the institution, the staff, the Board of Directors, and the community of volunteers who support our mission in a myriad of ways. This past year the Library has been faced with more challenges than any other year in his recent history, yet it continues to fulfill its commitment to the community and look with anticipation to a stronger future.
I think that it is important to provide you with a brief history. Ten years ago when I first came to the Library it was nearing its peak of activity, outreach, staffing and municipal support. The schedule of the new bookmobile donated by the Cape Ann Savings Bank averaged 24 stops per week and included visits to daycare centers, nursery schools, senior housing sites, and retirement homes throughout the city. For nine months of the year the Library was open to the public on Sunday afternoons in addition to the regular weekly 63 hours. It was fully staffed, including the services of two full time custodians to oversee the extensive grounds and nearly 27,000 square feet of sprawling space which included a historic facility nearly 150 years old. The Lyceum was experiencing a great revival under the visionary leadership of David Ellis, the library administration and its volunteer members. Michael York, Astronaut Donald Thomas and Chief Justice Herbert Wilkins were among many who highlighted the Lyceum’s 375th celebrations. Captains Courageous, Charles Olson, Kipling, T.S.Eliot, and Virginia Lee Burton represented the names of celebratory events hosted by the Lyceum. The Children’s Library buzzed with storyhours, school visits, and craft events. Special weekly and Saturday family programming sponsored by the Rhinelander Fund drew large crowds of children and families. The Matz family supported many of the technology and Children’s Library needs. The Library was about to launch its first website and with the addition of a much needed second reference librarian the Library hosted several weekly computer classes for the public, fully booked, weeks in advance.
Over the years along with the decline in city budgets, the Library experienced a series of losses. It lost a dear friend, Board member and Lyceum chair when David Ellis passed away. The bookmobile was decommissioned when one of the librarians retired. There was a change in leadership with the retirement of Director David McArdle. The AARP ended its financial support of three long time pages - Marguerite Saint, Mildred Brennan, and Lois Came. With continued municipal budget cuts we lost one full time custodian and cuts to part time staffing meant the end of the popular Sunday hours. Further municipal cuts to the Library budget meant a 30% cut in the underfunded book budget and meager city support for computer services was completely sacrificed.
Some silver linings along the way helped to bolster hope in the Library’s future. Board President Arthur Ryan purchased and donated the first of three houses that were to be the site of a new addition to the Library. Through a large and surprising bequest from Arthur Lawson, the two remaining properties were purchased and the properties cleared. Longtime Library supporter and Board President David McAveeney donated materials and services for a number of years in launching the first of many Annual Appeal mailings which continue to support the needs of the Library. The Friends of the Library reorganized and grew to nearly 300 members under the leadership of Lauren Johnson and Peter Jenner. The Art Advisory Committee lead by Amy Dengler gained great popularity and financial success in its Annual Art Auction. A series of bequests and a generous gift from new board member John Rando provided the encouragement to move forward with a construction grant application process to renovate and expand the library. President Janis Stelluto injected new life into the Board of Directors and the community. Janis attracted large numbers of volunteers by creating task forces and an Outreach Team to raise the funds and the awareness of the Library to the city officials and the citizens of Gloucester. Studies commissioned by Director McArdle formed the core of the extensive grantwriting process he and Janis successfully authored, placing Gloucester on the statewide list as recipients of the state construction grant.
Fiscal year ’07 began in the red when the mayor’s office cut $43,000 from the Library budget on the eve of the council budget vote. The cut left the Library minimally funded to maintain its state certification and left it scrambling for resources to offset the deficit. Last September the DPW announced that it could no longer support a custodian to close nights or to work Saturdays. The situation was not resolved for more than two months. Sunday openings, restored briefly the previous year were completely eliminated and evening hours in the Children’s library were reduced.
Despite the financial difficulties Director Roger Brisson pressed forward with new technology plans, a physical makeover for the facility, and a new look for the website. Due to the generosity of donors to the Annual Appeal, the interior spaces of the Library were partially updated, wireless access made available throughout, and new Apple Computers installed in the Children’s Library. Newly elected board president Mary Jane McGlennon wasted no time in mobilizing the Capital Campaign Committee, along with campaign manager Melissa Lynch , the Outreach Team and a huge number of volunteers to lobby city officials and garner community support for the debt exclusion vote in the spring. The disappointing results of the election were compounded by the resignation of Director Brisson. As Assistant Director I was once again offered and proudly accepted the position of Acting Director.
The result of the city’s dismal economic outlook for FY ’08 greatly impacted the Library budget even further. The incisive cuts in the budget commanded by the Budget and Finance committee left the barest minimum staffing for the Library, causing cuts to hours in the Children’s Library and a thinning of services. The resignation of one reference librarian added a second vacancy along with the Assistant Director opening strained the staff and infrastructure even further. In any other organization without such community support and incredible spirit, the outlook would have been truly bleak.
It’s truly amazing how the staff and core of volunteers, including the Board members, have pulled together to step up to the plate and create opportunity out of the challenges. The Board members met to prioritize and develop a new plan of action for the aging facility. After the defeat of the Library vote, instead of feeling demoralized, the staff was greatly encouraged by the large number of patrons extending deep appreciation for the Library staff and services. The defeat reflected the city’s financial distress and not a lack of support for the Library. Custodial coverage has been improved through cooperative efforts with the DPW and the hiring of Joseph Biondo as new custodian. A new reference librarian will be hired shortly and a new assistant director soon to follow.
Several community organizations collaborated with Library in launching Joe Garland’s Lone Voyager as the first community reading initiative, “Gloucester Reads.” Programs highlighting the importance of reading through Garland’s book took place at the Senior Center, Cape Ann Historical Museum, Halibut Point Restaurant, the library and throughout the school system. Over 800 students at the O’Maley Middle School were involved in reading and projects relating to the book and each heard the entire first chapter read aloud by leading members of the library and community. Our faithful and dedicated core of volunteers continues to grow and provide invaluable support. Lyceum members under the strong leadership of Mary Weissblum have championed new and exciting programming initiatives. The Friends of the Library have a strong core of volunteers who are ready to help whenever asked and continue to raise funds to support the library as does the Art Advisory Committee. The staff of the library have worked dedicatedly throughout my two month absence due to surgery in the spring and I am truly grateful for their cooperation and united efforts which have continued these many months.
In closing, a moment of silence and reflection is in order upon the passing of Janis Stelluto. Without Janis’ tenacity, motivating spirit, and organized leadership, the library would have not advanced its efforts as it has. It was a privilege to have worked with such a dynamic and determined woman. Janis’ passing is a loss to the entire Gloucester community. Our deepest condolences extend to her family and friends. Retiring board member Amy Dengler will be greatly missed. As board president and member of several committees and most importantly the Art Advisory for nine years, Amy’s clear thinking, keen insight and orientation towards action and simplicity have served the Library greatly for the last decade. We wish her well and look forward to her continued support. Doris Lundberg has been a steadfast Library volunteer for fifteen years. Her grace and elegance in the performance of her duties will be missed as she retires this year. A 17 year relationship will end this year with the retirement of Margaret McBride as director of the Adult Learning Center. Several hundred individuals have benefited from her efforts in both ESL and GED initiatives. We also wish her well and look forward to sustaining her program through a new relationship with the Wellspring program.
In spite of the obstacles and financial setbacks, it is with pride that I reflect upon the spirit of community and giving that continue to make this Library a place of opportunity. Libraries are particularly important in today’s electronic era in which children and adults become isolated in their use of the media. The library provides the community space where people of all races, ages, and incomes can come to learn, to research, to share ideas, and to stimulate their imagination through the engaging activity of reading. Our task now is to look to the future in setting goals that will better meet the technological and informational needs of Gloucester. These are very dynamic times in the world of libraries and information sciences. The Library we are today may be very different from the library of tomorrow, and we need to begin now to re-evaluate, explore and create a facility that will be the community’s portal to enriched opportunities in literacy and learning.
Carol S. Gray