Concerns About the Future of the Library

Amanda Henshon–Wellesley Townsman, March 10, 2016

“A risky scheme like the one proposed might make sense if Wellesley were a struggling municipality – or perhaps if the Library were lacking.  It is not.  Are we prepared to take a chance on this new plan that is as extreme as any adopted in Massachusetts?”  

I write to ask for your support in protecting the future of the Wellesley Free Library.  As part of the upcoming Town Election (March 15), residents will be asked to vote on a ballot question that, if passed, will result in Wellesley radically altering its form of town government. Please support the Library by voting NO on Question 1.

 

While other peer towns have moved to a “Town Manager” system, this proposal goes too far; few have taken the radical step of emasculating Library Trustee authority.  Removing the supervisory authority of Library Trustees over the Library Director as well as their role in developing the Library budget will significantly erode the amount of attention and advocacy the Library will receive.  It is easy for un-elected bureaucrats to forget libraries when parceling out limited funds.  Library Trustees give the library a voice to ensure that it isn’t overlooked

I served as an elected Trustee of the Wellesley Free Library from 2006-2015, and was Chair for three of those years.  I ran for office because I wanted to make a difference in our community by helping the Library ensure its success into the future.

I am also one of the founders of the Wellesley Free Library Foundation, which was created to raise private dollars for enhancements to the Library – items beyond what can be covered by tax dollars. This innovative public-private partnership has significantly enhanced our Library  – the entire operation of the Branches and all programming at the Library is funded exclusively with private dollars (from Book Babies, to guest speakers, to technology workshops).  By eliminating the checks and balances guaranteed by independent Library Trustees, donors will have no assurance that their money will be used appropriately and will resist contributing to the Library. The Library would be only a shadow of its current form without this money.

A risky scheme like the one proposed might make sense if Wellesley were a struggling municipality – or perhaps if the Library were lacking.  It is not.  Are we prepared to take a chance on this new plan that is as extreme as any adopted in Massachusetts?  This is not about special treatment of Wellesley’s Trustees; given the strength of our Library, we should not join the tiny minority of Massachusetts towns (less than 20%) who have eliminated the legislative authority granted to Library Trustees.

Over the past 15 years, the Town and its residents have invested in the Library – building a beautiful new main library in Wellesley Center, and (through private support) protecting and preserving the historic and convenient branch libraries.  The result is a library system that is the envy of many around the country.  While there are many reasons to move to a “Town Manager” system, this proposed plan would put our Library at risk and remove accountability.

I am concerned about the future of the Wellesley Free Library.  I ask that you act for the future of Wellesley by voting NO on Question 1 on March 15.  Let’s work together to preserve the excellence of the Wellesley Free Library.

Editor’s note: Ms. Henshon is a former Library Trustee and one of the founders of the Wellesley Free Library Foundation.