President’s Report to the Corporation
Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Library
This has been an eventful and challenging year for the Sawyer Free Library. After years of planning, in December ’06 the Board asked Mayor Bell to request that the City Council authorize the Library to hold a special election for a city-wide debt exclusion vote. The vote would ask the people of Gloucester to support a $7M bond issue to match the $4M grant promised to the Library by the state and the $4M expected from private fundraising in support of the Library’s $15M renovation and expansion program. The City Council agreed to hear our request. Careful and thorough presentations to them and a packed auditorium of Library supporters resulted in a unanimous vote in favor of holding the special election on April 24, 2007. Most Councilors supported a positive outcome for the vote; a few supported only the concept of the election, reserving judgment on the vote itself.
The campaign to win the vote began in February. The Library already had in place a capital campaign office which was turned into vote headquarters. Pat Earle, a long-time Library advocate, volunteered to manage the vote process. The campaign strategy focused on getting out the known supporters of the Library while reaching out to the broader public with presentations, events, mailings and advertising. Unfortunately, as the campaign activity increased, so did difficult financial news from the City. Off and on during February and March, headlines in the Gloucester Daily Times called attention to fiscal crises in other city departments - most prominently in the schools. On the day of the vote, Gloucester’s financial difficulties overshadowed the support for the Library’s bond issue, and the Library’s proposal was defeated. The Library Director announced his resignation the following day.
The debt exclusion vote experience illuminated many of the strengths of the Library community despite the disappointing outcome. Board members Greg Bover and Joan Ciolino presented the Library’s case to organizations throughout the City. Eighty people, spearheaded by dedicated members of the Library’s Outreach Committee, volunteered to work on phone banks, mailings, mini-events, transportation, bringing baked goods and contacting friends and family. The outpouring of volunteers was only the surface demonstration of the expressed deep and wide support for the Library itself. The Board and staff of the Library understood that the rejection of the proposal was not a rejection of our beloved institution.
The Board sprung back into action soon after the vote results were known. The first step was a unanimous vote to replace the outgoing Director with Carol Gray who had been Assistant Director at the Library for the past 9 years. Next the Board met in an informal retreat to determine priorities for going forward – in the absence of being able to carry out our $15M building plan. Many generous community members had already contributed both through outright gifts and bequests, giving the Library limited resources to move forward on the most pressing structural issues. It was easily decided that work should begin on the Saunders House, on the HVAC system and on the elevator as soon as possible. Plans and potential costs are now being developed for these three areas. Once this critical repair work is underway, the Board will engage in a longer process to address more comprehensive Library improvements. The Board is also evaluating the use of the Library’s back ‘parking lot’ which is now not immediately needed for expansion.
The unusual contribution from Ms. Frances Vrachos has been another outstanding highlight of the past year. Her desire to help the Library and to honor her parents and a special friend culminated in her gifting her house and many of her own paintings to the Library while maintaining life tenancy in her home. In recognition of her generosity, the Library will name the second floor for her family and friend. The official ceremony will take place at the October 15, 2007 Annual Meeting.
While we have revitalized objectives and excellent leadership in place, the Library also has experienced a diminishing within our community. A former Library leader, Janis Stelluto died in late September, 2007. Her extensive work on the $15M renovation and expansion project helped involve the larger community and positioned the Library to prioritize improvements needed today. On a less somber note, Amy Dengler, a past President and nine year Board member is retiring from the Board. Her leadership during the earliest days of planning set the stage for future Library growth. The Library owes Janis, Amy and many other dedicated and often unsung Library volunteers a debt of gratitude for consistently moving the Library’s mission forward.
We are fortunate to have the Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Library available to all of Gloucester’s people. As promised in its mission, The Library continues to “serve the information and cultural needs of Gloucester’s children and adults...”.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve as the President of such a noble and important Gloucester institution.
Mary Jane McGlennon, President
Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Library