ANNUAL REPORT OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS
GLOUCESTER LYCEUM AND SAWYER FREE LIBRARY
This has been an important year for the Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Library, a year of consolidating our gains and marshalling our resources for future work. A little over two years ago the Library received an outstanding gift from Frances Vrachos in the form of her waterfront home on Penzance Road in Rockport. Although the Library then owned the house, Ms Vrachos retained life tenancy, and when she passed away last year, the Board determined that it should be put on the market. Thanks to the good offices of Mike Sanborn of the Cape Ann Savings Bank Trust Department and the efforts of George Roark of Home Port Realty, the house was sold and the proceeds were invested for future expansion of the Library. In addition, Ms Vrachos made us the beneficiaries of a sizeable annuity and a significant collection of her own art, recently shown at the Rocky Neck Art Association. As a result, the resources available for our long awaited addition to the Library have been effectively doubled. Our plan is to name a floor of that future addition in her honor.
I have been privileged to be President of the Board of Directors for the past four years, and I can tell you that the Board, whose members are drawn from among you, the Corporators, is an active and energized body. Just a few years ago, we met only quarterly, now we meet monthly because there is so much to do to ensure that the staff has the tools and the facility they need to allow them to provide our patrons with the best possible Library under present circumstances, and of course by that I mean the reduction in the funds that the City budgets for the operation of the Library.
Now, you may be asking yourself, as many patrons have asked me over the past few years, how it can be that the Library has funds set aside for a future addition while at the same time we are operating under reduced hours and without a much needed Assistant Director? It is a good question and I hope I can explain.
First, many donors of private funds give with restrictions, that is, their gifts are directed to certain uses, such as Frances Vrachos’ remarkable gift for expansion, and are therefore not available to be used for operating expenses as a condition in the deed of gift. Secondly, it is probably not prudent to spend even unrestricted funds for such expenses. The reasons behind this are a bit more complex.
We are essentially a privately owned institution operated by the City. You, the Corporators, are the members of a trust that owns the land and buildings for the purpose of providing a library for the City of Gloucester. The city provides the funds for staff salaries and a small portion of what is necessary for books, but the private side, the Corporation, has been providing the funds for upkeep and capital improvements to the physical library, as well as programming, scholarships and materials. 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. Together the City and the Corporation provide a far better Library than either could alone.
However, the Commonwealth, through the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, sets a standard of accreditation that only counts the contribution of the city toward a minimum required for a library in a city of our size. Private side funds do not count toward the accreditation that makes us eligible for a small amount of state funds for books, and even more importantly, the ability to participate in the Inter-Library Loan system, enabling any of us to borrow books from any library in the North of Boston Library Exchange, effectively multiplying our resources by a factor of thirty member collections. I am sure that many of you use this Exchange as much as I do; the utility of the Sawyer Free would be vastly reduced without it.
For the past several years, the City has not budgeted funds at a level to meet this state minimum, which has forced us to apply for a waiver. Given the overall economic climate, the Commissioners have granted this waiver, but we can not rely on it to go forward year after year. It is only through the extraordinary efforts of the Director and staff that these cuts have not impacted the Library more noticeably than they have. I imagine many of you miss the weekend and evening hours as much as I do, but I think the Board has been correct in refusing to deplete capital funds for operating expenses, which would have the added deleterious effect of letting the City off the hook from its side of our long standing bargain.
So how will we use the private funds that have been so generously given? Two projects are currently in the works to address long-standing problems with Library property. First, thanks to a major gift from John Rando in memory of his parents, the grounds on the north-east corner, that is the property along Dale Avenue and between us and Central Grammar will be completely re-landscaped. Concepts developed by Hilarie Holdsworth almost two years ago have been fleshed out by Architects Siemasko and Verbridge and a just about ready to go out to bid. This project has also received approval from the Community Preservation Act Committee for the improvements in handicap access. Further gifts from Mary Weissblum and in memory of Janice Stelluto, Amy Dengler, and Stillman Hilton have brought us close to our fundraising goal. I hope some of you will also participate.
Secondly, we are on the verge of City approvals for vast improvements to the parking lot behind the Library, at the corner of school and Mason Streets. We plan 40 spaces for staff and patrons, creating an attractive paved and landscaped space that will still allow us to expand the Library in the future. The parking lot and northeast landscaping projects are tied together by an overall drainage plan, which has added complexity to both that will delay a groundbreaking until spring, but that will be for the best in the long run.
So I think you will agree that the Library is moving forward despite the challenging times in which we live. More patrons than ever come through our doors to educate themselves, to search for work, to participate in community meetings, to give their children a glimpse of the future, and to experience the quiet joy that only reading provides. As the novelist Ann Michaels said, “Hold a book in your hand and you are a pilgrim at the gates of a new city.”
I would like to recognize the help that Adele Ervin and the Matz, McCarl, and Rhinelander families continue to provide to the Library every year, for which we are so very grateful. It is also important to recognize the often behind-the-scenes support that the Friends of the Sawyer Free Library provide. Without their steadfast work the beacon that is the Library would not shine so brightly. If you do not already belong to this excellent group, please consider joining.
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. I end with a quote from Andrew Carnegie, “There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration."
President of the Board