This has been an important year for the Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Library, a year of re-evaluating our future, re-prioritizing our goals, and reassessing our resources. It would have been easy to view the defeat of the debt exclusion referendum as a defeat for the library, but the hard work of Janis Stelluto and dozens of volunteers, many of them sitting here tonight, had positive results, not perhaps the results we had initially wished, but results that move the Library forward none-the-less.
I have been privileged to be President of the Board of Directors for the past year, and I can tell you that the Board, whose members are drawn from the Corporators, is active and energized, agreeing amongst ourselves to meet twice as often as is required in the By-Laws, because there is so much to do to ensure that the staff has the tools and the facility to provide the patrons with the best possible Library under present circumstances, and of course by that I mean our straitened economic times.
When I was first asked to be a Corporator (after being an active patron), I did not understand the way that our Library is funded. I only knew that the Library was the only place in town where anyone could get wonderful things for free in return for the simple promise to bring them back. We are essentially a privately owned institution operated by the City. That is, you, the Corporators, are the owners and trustees of a trust that owns this land and these buildings for the purpose of providing a library for the City of Gloucester. The city provides the funds for staff salaries and some of what is necessary for books, but the private side handles the funds for upkeep and capital improvements to the physical library. This system is really quite remarkable when one thinks about it. Imagine any other city department operating this way; if the DPW, for instance, received its salary money from the city, but privately raised the money to buy trucks and sweepers and maintain its buildings. The Mayor, as a friend of the Library and an ex-officio Board member is with us this evening, and I will go so far as to ask her to keep the unique financial contribution of the private side in mind should there be further City belt tightening necessary. Together the City and the Corporation provide a better Library than either could alone.
For it is the generous benefactors of the Library who have stepped forward to make possible the work that has begun to stabilize and refurbish the Library, when the City cannot. Over our heads tonight is a new set of clerestory windows, of which half are electrically operated to provide air circulation through the atrium and cool the building. They even close automatically if it rains. For these we are indebted to Adele Irvin, a long time friend and supporter of our Library.
Long delayed work has begun on the Saunders House, a project for which we have received major support from the Dusky Foundation, a local philanthropy that understands the worth of the historic house and shares our dream of returning it to its rightful place as a jewel of Middle Street. Work has already started on the porch on that side, and the roof, chimneys, windows, and exterior woodwork will all be repaired and made watertight again, culminating with new paint. We are fortunate to have a local contractor in Steve Goodick, and excellent advice from restoration expert Bill Finch, as well as first class project management from Design Techniques of Newburyport. We will know more about the extent of the work as the old paint is scraped away, but the Board is committed to preventing further decay. Also watch for future landscaping work, a cleaning of this 1976 building, and development of a parking lot behind this building at the corner of Mason and School Streets - more on that later.
We have been fortunate that all the donors who originally gave money for the expansion of the Library have remained on board through the reordering of our priorities. In addition to the support I’ve already mentioned we have received major gifts from John Rando, Dottie Brown; and bequests from Priscilla Collins and other anonymous donors. Last year Frances Vrachos gave us her house on Penzance Road. The Matz, McCarl, and Rhinelander Foundations continue to help the Library every year, for which we are so very grateful.
I think most of you know that the modest but important support we receive from the Commonwealth is contingent on a certain level of support from the City. If the City does not contribute to the operation of the Library at a level determined by the population, the Library loses its accreditation, its ability to borrow books from other libraries in the North of Boston Library Exchange Network, and state money for books. Not only has budget cutting at City Hall put us in danger of losing this support, now there is Question One on the ballot. I do not think it is my place to tell any of you how to vote on the question of whether to do away with state income tax, but I will ask you to think carefully about the effects such a drastic measure will have on this institution and many others that make our community, and our Commonwealth, good places in which to live, to raise children, and grow old.
I love this Library as do so many of you, thank you for the opportunity to serve, and for your continued help in making it the center of Gloucester’s cultural life.
Gregory Bover, President
Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Library