Highlights of March meetings of Jones Library Board of Trustees, Personnel, Policy and Planning Committee, and Budget Committee
Following a decision by the Amherst Board of Health to lift an indoor mask mandate for public spaces and businesses, Jones Library Director Sharon Sharry recommended that the library follow suit. Based on staff input she proposed that attendance in indoor meeting rooms be limited to 50% capacity to allow a degree of social distancing.
The Trustees supported her recommendation unanimously and specified that she could increase the capacity limit at an appropriate time at her discretion.
Director Sharon Sharry presented her preliminary budget request for fiscal year 2023 which begins on July 1, 2022. The budget proposal calls for $2,730,084 in income and expenses, an increase of 0.3% over the previous year. Of that sum, the Town allocation will be increased by 2.5%. The Town of Amherst provides the Library with 78.3% of its operating costs, and the State is expected to provide 1.5%. The remainder of revenue comes from the endowment, donations, grants, and fees.
Trustee treasurer Bob Pam reported that the endowment’s value has gone down steadily since January, along with the financial markets, but remains above $9 million. The trustees have approved a 4% draw rate from the endowment in FY23.
State aid provides the library with about $100,000. Sharry projects spending a little over half of this amount.
The budget sets a goal of $175,000 to be contributed by the Friends of the Jones Library. Development Committee Chair Lee Edwards cautioned that this number is hypothetical and requires raising considerably more than $175,000 in donations to cover fundraising expenses. “It’s a big lift,” she said. “We’ll do what we can.”
Roughly 79% of the Library’s operating budget is allocated to salaries and benefits. To receive a full state aid award, The Jones Library, Inc. must annually spend an amount equal to 13% of its municipal appropriation (minus fringe benefits) on circulating materials. The amount to be spent on materials totals $237,000 for the coming year.
One significant budget alteration was made at the meeting. Sharry had originally requested an amount for programming that was reduced by 38.7% from the previous year. “We’ve got so many things going on, between COVID, the building projects, and staff training, that programming, I think, can and should take a back seat,” she explained.
Trustee Pam disagreed. “In a year in which are trying to be very clear about the town’s need for this library, it is not a time for programming to take a back seat.”
The committee came to agreement that the programming line item should be restored to a level funding amount of $30,000 with the increase coming out of state aid.
The FY23 budget request will be presented to the full Board of Trustees for approval.
Head of Special Collections Cyndi Harbeson has been working on a plan to move North Amherst Library operations to the Munson Library Building in South Amherst during renovation later this year. The hope has been to use the lower level of Munson for a staff workstation, circulating North Amherst materials, and public computers, and to take over the large hall on the first floor for additional shelved materials.
However, two issues have emerged. First, Munson Hall is a town polling place in September and November, and any library items must be cleared out at those times. Second, staff members have reported that the lower level of the Munson Building has a mold problem and the air quality is not good. Harbeson has reached out to Town Facilities Manager Jeremiah Laplante for advice.
The move will require both library branches to close for one week. Upon reopening, the merged library will have expanded hours: Mon-Weds-Fri, 1-7pm; Tues-Thurs 11-4pm; and Sat 9-5pm. The reopening is tentatively scheduled for June 1.
The committee was presented with updated goals for the Director’s annual review. Chair Tamson Ely explained that the process involves collecting feedback from the trustees, the staff, the Friends of the Jones Library and the public. “It’s a lengthy process,” said Ely, “but a necessary one, I guess.”
“I wish we could figure out a way to simplify some of these processes,” she went on. Ely and trustee Farah Ameen conceded that this is unlikely since “this is Amherst,” where, as the tee-shirt says, “Only the ‘H’ is silent.”
Commenting on the disagreement that frequently characterizes Amherst politics, and the criticism that the Jones Library Building Project has faced, Ely lamented, “I don’t know what’s worse, an overly informed electorate or an ignorant electorate.”