Report on the Meeting of the Jones Library Board of Trustees, February 23, 2022
Trustees Austin Sarat, Alex Lefebvre, Robert Pam, Lee Edwards, Tamson Ely and Farah Ameen; Library director Sharron Sharry; Friends of the Jones Library liaison Lewis Mainzer
Library trustee Alex Lefebvre presented a recommendation of the Buildings & Facilities Committee to accept an offer from Kestrel Trust to take possession of plants and benches from the Jones Library’s Kinsey Garden that would otherwise be “disturbed” by the planned library construction project. Bob Pam raised a question: “In a short while I guess we’ll be talking about the Preservation Restriction Agreement that is between us and the [Amherst] Historical Commission, and one of the provisions we are being asked to sign off on says that their authorization is necessary or at least requires [Historical Commission] review of any major changes.”
He went on to quote the Preservation Restriction Agreement’s definition of major changes as including “altering or removing significant landscape features such as gardens, vistas, walks, plantings, walls, fences…” He cautioned, “Consequently I’m not sure if we have to await a review by the Historical Commission before we can make this decision.”
Lefebvre answered that it was her understanding that the Preservation Restriction Agreement only applies to features that are visible “when you are on Amity Street, and you are facing the building.” Since the Kinsey Garden is in the rear of the library building, she suggested that it should not be subject to the preservation restriction.
The Board voted unanimously to endorse the garden move, but Austin Sarat added, “It needs to be understood that the moving of the garden may require an approval by the Historical Commission and we should consult and find out whether that is the case.”
Despite the uncertainty and potential loss of the downtown garden, Sarat described the arrangement with Kestrel Trust as a proud moment. “It’s really a moment to celebrate the collaboration of two great Amherst institutions — the Jones Library and the Kestrel Trust,” he said.
In an agenda item listed simply as “Town Appropriation of Library Salaries” President Sarat asked the board to approve his initiating discussion with the Town Manager on the topic. While not elaborating on what he would discuss, he said that it was related to what he had raised at the January 27 meeting of the Budget Coordinating Group (BCG), which attempts to balance the budgetary needs of the libraries, the schools and town operations.
At the BCG meeting which had no public attendees, Library Director Sharon Sharry reported that the Town’s contribution for Jones Library salaries was about $60,000 – $70,000 short of actual expenses. Sarat then asked, “Is there a prospect in our lifetime that the town and the library will reach a new understanding about the contribution of the town to the salaries of people at the library.” Town Manager Paul Bockelman replied that such a change would require a realignment of the budget. This leads to speculation that Sarat’s unspecified intent may be to negotiate a larger share of the town budget for library salaries.
In her Director’s Report, Sharry summarized the combined circulation statistics for the Jones, Munson and North Amherst Libraries over the past five years. In December 2019, 33.8 thousand items were checked out. In December 2020 during the pandemic, 18.8 thousand items were checked out. By December 2021, activity was growing healthier with 26.0 thousand items being circulated.