For quite some time, confusion has been brewing over the possibility of a new library in town and who is involved in making this new library happen.
The Smyrna Town Council, Smyrna Public Library Guild, and the Smyrna Public Library Advisory Board as well as members of the community came together on July 20 to discuss such confusions, the status of the current library in town, and whether or not a new library is a possibility for the town of Smyrna.=
John Phillos, an administrative librarian for the Delaware Division of Libraries, facilitated the meeting, which was held at the municipal complex.
Phillos explained at the beginning of the meeting that it doesn’t matter who belongs to what group, what matters is everyone is concerned about the library services in Smyrna.
“The people you see in this room are concerned about library services in this area,” Phillos said.
Positives versus what needs to be changed
Phillos started the meeting asking people what they like about the Smyrna Public Library. Answers varied from the centralized location to the helpful and friendly staff.
In general, those in attendance are happy with the staff and the services provided by the library to the town. However, there was a long list of things people would like to do differently with the library.
This list ranged from more meetings rooms, more hours, more computers and study areas. A majority of the changes came down to the lack of space in the current library. While there were more positives about the staff and how the library is governed, the compiled list showed there’s an obvious need for more space.
“It’s a building issue, it’s really about the building. It’s not that you don’t have a historic building,” Phillos said, “it’s not that you haven’t made really good use of limited resources. If you want to go here, if you want any of this, this has to change.”
Discussing the options
Once it was determined that space was an issue, the group explored their options. The options included doing nothing, building a new facility, keeping the current library and building a new one, expanding the current library, renting, and acquiring a building and renovated it.
Alice Hohman, member of the library advisory board, suggested the town expand the library to the Stokesbury House next door.
“Now I know that it would not be the ideal situation but with money being as tight as it is, the library with some minor renovations could expand to do some of the things that everybody would like to see done until there’s a time more money becomes available and then they could go ahead and build a newer library,” Hohman said.
Phillos explained libraries have expanded in the past by connecting to a building. However, the expansion to the Stokesbury house still was ruled out. To receive funding from the state, a library needs to be 10,000 square feet. The library currently sits at roughly 5,000 square feet and even with expanding to the Stokesbury House, the library would still be less than 10,000 square feet.
Ultimately, a majority of those in attendance agreed that a new library is needed.
Concerns with money
Several people in attendance voiced their concerns over how plans and construction of the new library would be funded, and how the library would eventually be operated.
“I may be getting ahead of myself but whether it’s a new building or an expansion of the old building, where is the funding coming from?” Councilwoman Valerie White asked.
At one point, Mayor Pat Stombaugh compared it to putting the “cart before the horse” because plans are being made for a library when funding and operating expenses haven’t been determined.
Phillos explained that the state pays 50 percent, therefore, with a previously done needs assessment suggesting a proposed new library in Smyrna to cost $8 million, the state would put forth $4 million. The rest of the funds would need to be made up from fundraising efforts and grants.
The library guild has already secured $150,000 from the fiscal year 2012 bond bill. Kent County has also contributed $30,000. Library guild president Jennifer Merrill said they will be writing grants asking for donations from foundations and also will ask for more money from the state in the fiscal year 2013 bond bill.
Phillos explained the county, state, or an independent commission could manage a library. Smyrna Town Council has already said they won’t be able to help fund or help operate the new library.
Merrill said they’ve looked at other libraries in the state to see how they are operated. The library in Milford has proved to be a good example as they too are near a county border. The library in Milford serves people in southern Kent County and northern Sussex County. The Smyrna Public Library serves people in Smyrna, Clayton, Kenton, Cheswold and southern New Castle County.
Therefore, a library commission could be appointed where people from the different areas could be appointed to run and operate the library.
One point Phillos made is that nothing is set in stone. “A lot of things can change as the project moves forward, you don’t have to have this thing locked in stone from the minute hat you start raising funds.”
People in the area have questioned if the project is feasible, if there’s enough money to go around from the state and through fundraising.
While Phillos said this is a valid concern, the state has given $8 to $10 million to library construction projects and will continue to do so.
Questions were brought up asking if the guild has a plan for operating the library. While the guild said they don’t want to operate the library, they do have a plan. This plan is similar to that of how the library in Milford is operated.
One other misconception previously addressed by the guild is that they do want the library to be in Smyrna.
“Absolutely, we want the library to be in Smyrna,” Merrill previously said. In order to get the funding to put the library in Smyrna, the guild needs the support of the people in town.
One key point addressed by a few people at the meeting is the need to have better communication.
Councilwoman Joanne Masten said that while the library guild has done a wonderful job raising money, everything hasn’t been done out in the open because it’s always the same group of people.
“I’ve heard all kinds of innuendos about the guild’s going to do this, this and this group of bandits is coming to town and they’re going to take away everything,” Masten said, “I think what has to happen to be successful is everybody in this room needs to come together, there has to be open lines of communication.”
Throughout the meeting frustrations were running high and some people even walked out. By the end of the meeting, Phillos said just airing out the concerns has helped to open the lines of communication and he feels the town should move forward in the process.
Hohman even asked if she could attend a library guild meeting, receiving a response from guild member and Councilman Jeff Flairty that they’d be proud for her to come to a meeting.
“I’d really like to understand what you’re trying to do and for you to understand where we’re coming form,” Hohman said.
Next up in the planning process, Phillos said the town needs to continue looking for a site and they need to decide how to operate the new library.
Email Jennifer Dailey at email@example.com