Pember looks at becoming public school district library

B y Jaime Thomas

More than a century ago, Franklin and Ellen Pember gave their library and natural history museum to the people of Granville to enjoy.

Today, the local institute is struggling to survive.

But a new initiative the library board of trustees is considering might help it serve area patrons for years to come. Officials have hired the services of Library Consultant Libby Post to look into the Pember becoming a school district public library.

If the board decides to aim for the school board ballot, residents would vote next May to establish the library’s annual funding and to elect trustees.

“The Pember is not alone in this; this is not an unusual way for funding to be collected in the state for public libraries,” Post said. “They’re looking to become a district to stabilize and sustain funding.”

And solid financial support is something the Pember seriously lacks, as it currently relies on grants, donations and municipal allocations to stay afloat.

Pember Director Pat Wesner said there just isn’t enough money to run the place.

“Funding has gotten so difficult over the last several years; grants are harder and harder to find. The economy has been very difficult on everyone,” she said.

New York State Parks, for example, grants about $15,000, which pays for the museum educator’s salary. The village of Granville gives a $16,000 allocation, and the town contributes as well. But total annual expenses come out to well over $100,000.

Post said the New York state tax cap has negatively impacted local libraries, as governing bodies continue to cut them out of their budgets.

“This is all about putting the future of the library into the hands of taxpayers,” she said. Sara Dallas, director of the Southern Adirondack Library System, said creating a public library district makes the library sustainable and gives locals representation.

“The public has a voice in the library, and the library can provide services the public needs and wants. The strongest libraries in the state and the area use this funding model,” she said, adding that many libraries throughout the state and locally have taken these measures.

“With a district, the public has more of a say and representation. Anyone from the school district can be a trustee,” Post said.

If the library district and budget is established, funding would remain at the same level unless the library board requests a change, according to nysed.gov. Though the library budget and board would be voted on at the same time as the school budget, they would remain as separate entities. The school district would simply collect taxes on behalf of the library and then give them to the library. If approved, the school tax bills would have two line items on them — one for the school tax and one for the library funding, Post said.

Library employees would also have more security in their jobs, and they would be grandfathered into civil service. The board would decide details regarding employee benefits and the length of trustees’ terms.

Post said when libraries do become districts their budgets pass 98 percent of the time, because people understand they need more community-based funding. Over the next six months, she said the Pember Library Board needs to create a budget to present for public approval, and reach out and educate their constituents.

“It’s early in the process — they’re still doing research so decisions can be made in an informed way,” she said. As far as all parties involved are concerned, there is no negative aspect to this process.

“They’re not doing something wacko; they are doing the responsible thing libraries need to do to maintain their position in the town and maintain their viability,” Post said.

Wesner said the board has not yet made any decisions but is exploring the possibility of this action.

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