Gratitude is the word that comes to mind in reflecting upon this past year. My gratitude is for The Hand that directed the dramatic shift of wind that frigid early morning of December 16 that saved Gloucester’s library. I shivered in silent disbelief as I watched the flames consume what remained of the Lorraine Building and the Temple Ahavat Achim, yet spared the neighboring historic wooden structure and its annexes. As I stood among the hundreds of feet of fire hoses anxiously awaiting word from the fire chief that I could safely enter the Library to assess the damage, a policeman joined me. He chronicled the fury of the rising flames a few hours earlier as they leaped from the apartment building, consuming the Temple, heading directly for the Saunders House. Quite dramatically he described the sudden shift in the wind, which directed the flames towards Main Street.
Damage to the Library was relatively light. We lost power of course and discovered two to three inches of water in the basement and suffered slight smoke damage. Thanks to the quick efforts of DPW supervisor Frank Benson and DPW Head, Joe Parisi, generators were able to pump out the water within a relatively short time. Over the weekend ice jams on the roof of the 1913 addition caused a rooftop leak which resulted in damage to approximately 30-40 books by the time it was discovered. The Library remained closed from December 16 through December 27 to permit Servicemaster, an agent of the City’s insurance, to clean the building and contents and restore the air quality.
Built in 1764 for Thomas Saunders, Gloucester citizen and merchant, the Saunders House was purchased by the Library’s greatest benefactor, Samuel E. Sawyer and his wife Abby I. Sawyer. On April 26, 1184 they signed the deed of conveyance for the parcel of land with buildings on the corner of Middle Street and Dale Avenue, to the newly organized trustees headed by John J. Babson, “for the benefit, in trust, of the Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Library; a corporation duly established by the laws of the Commonwealth.” Sawyer’s purpose was to establish “a permanent home for the Institution known as the Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Library, (to be) devoted to the use of the citizens of Gloucester especially, and to strangers….”
Each year before the Annual Meeting, I reread excerpts from the early history of the Library to revisit the vision of Samuel Sawyer. The Deed of Conveyance is a sacred trust that lays out the dreams and plans he had for a public library. I reread this document as a measure to ensure that we are in fact honoring that sacred trust. I am pleased to report that we are in every way.
When the Library reopened on Friday, December 28 it was as though it had been reborn. The staff was overwhelmed by well wishers and patrons, lamenting its closure but so happy that it had been spared. Gloucester’s citizens were dramatically reminded of the Library’s value and importance in the community landscape. Indeed, late Saturday in Rockport, a woman entered one of the local shops in tears for she had mistakenly heard that the library had burned as well.
In early December Adult Learning Center coordinator Margaret McBride retired. Margaret founded the center and served as its sole director under the fiduciary umbrella of the Library for nearly twenty years. In early December, discussions began with Wellspring House Inc., to transfer those restricted assets to the well respected non-profit, in order that they continue Adult Learning services. An agreement was approved by our Board of Directors and the new Adult Learning Center opened its doors in January under the directorship of Melissa Buchanan.
The end of December Jen Searle was hired as new reference librarian to fill a vacancy, however, a hiring freeze imposed by the Mayor, prevented the hiring of an Assistant Director. That position continues to be unfilled due to the prolonged hiring freeze. It is our every hope that the position be filled in 2010 as it is essential to the planning and everyday operation of the Library. The City did approve the hiring of Christine Garcia-Akers as very part time library assistant to provide additional evening support for the staff who were reduced to two by previous budget cuts.
During a retreat over a year ago, called by then President Mary Jane McGlennon, the Board set a priority to repair and stabilize the Saunders House. Through a generous donation from the Dusky Foundation, that project has begun under the contractorship of Steve Goodick with oversight by Design Techniques of Newburyport. Through the beneficence of Manchester resident Adele Ervin, Geoff Richon Inc., completed the work of replacing the clerestory windows and flashing repair to the ’76 addition.
The fate of the bookmobile, generously donated by the Cape Ann Savings bank in 1997, was finally decided. The Board approved its sale and the winning bid for the vehicle was from the Western Regional Library System of Massachusetts. The vehicle was purchased to replace their aging vehicle and service libraries and small outlying communities. The title was held by the City of Gloucester, but the Mayor and council voted to deposit those funds into the Library’s budget. The resulting transfer of funds, however, was not sufficient to support the Library’s budget as mandated by the Board of Library Commissioners.
In 1890 under Chapter 78 of Massachusetts General Law Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners was established as “an agency of state government with statutory authority and responsibility to…improve library services throughout the Commonwealth.” One of its primary goals is to strengthen and maintain our libraries. To this end, there are certain standards which must be maintained in order to be a certified library and receive all the benefits thereof. Standards are based upon population and a set of seven criteria which include free access, hours and days open, and a minimum standard of financial support from city government.
During times of economic hardship a city may not be able to meet minimum financial support for the library. If the library is not disproportionately cut, the city may apply for a one year waiver. This is the case with the City of Gloucester. We have submitted paperwork in application of a waiver for FY 2009 and have every hope of being granted such for this year. Loss of certification would mean the loss of approximately $30,000 in State Aid money, other libraries would not be required to loan materials to residents of Gloucester, and we would be prevented from receiving grant monies administered by the Board of Library Commissioners. In short, it is highly unlikely that any other library in Massachusetts would loan material to a Gloucester resident for the term of the decertification. This is huge given the increasing popularity of interlibrary loan use. The Library has certainly shouldered our share of the City budget cuts with the unfilled Assistant Director’s position, reduced book budget, continued cuts to Children’s Library hours as a result of previous staff reductions, and the need to apply for a waiver. Fortunately the Mayor and city council have shown continued support of the Library and have made across the board, proportionate cuts to all departments. Thus we have every hope of a positive outcome for our waiver application this year.
Because of the financial and staffing setbacks it was necessary to set aside some goals for greater school/community outreach, for public computer/internet/database training, and for staff development. Despite current obstacles we continue to strive to meet the needs of our patrons and the community. With the increase in the popularity of audiobooks, we are about to embark on a new initiative through our NOBLE consortium. Overdrive, which provides downloadable books and videos for patrons from their homes using their library cards, will be available in the next few weeks. Nextreads is a new reader’s advisory initiative currently available on our website. Our website is scheduled for a dramatic update and makeover. The Children’s Library supports greater numbers of school visits and attendance at storyhours is on the rise.
It is a fact that during times of economic downturn, library use rises. Gloucester is no exception. Over forty-four attended a recent Wednesday morning storyhour for preschoolers. Mothers, grandmothers, and caregivers are able to access materials and mentoring as we provide their children with early and varied opportunities to develop good reading skills. Libraries are the cornerstone of our democracy affording all the opportunity for open and free access to information and self education. We are repositories for local history and the sole depository for the Gloucester Daily Times on microfilm. I invite you as members of the corporation to educate yourself about library services and advocate for library support in our community.
In closing it is with sadness that I note the passing of a long serving library volunteer and staff member, Marguerite Mitchell Saint. At 94 Marguerite was our oldest volunteer. Until just a few months ago she came weekly to shelve books as a volunteer when the Senior Service agency dropped their financial support of our AARP staff. She enriched our lives with grace and humor and she will be greatly missed.