$400K Apparatus Will Replace Historic Director’s Office
Statewide, Library Projects Change Course in the Face of Escalating Costs
At the October 19 public hearing to review the proposed Jones Library renovation-expansion project, the Amherst Historical Commission wrestled with options for locating a “book drop” in the front of the building. It soon emerged that the book drop consisted not only of a new opening to be cut into the historic building’s stonework, but also a large sorting device that uses an RFID tagging system to sort returned books into bins for shelving.
Designer Ellen Anselone of Finegold Alexander Architects asserted that, “the book drop is critical to the function of [a] library of this scale, so we evaluated where to put it.”
“We tried to put it in the side where the one of the existing entries is, but we could not fit the unit that sorts the books in the space behind there. It’s quite lengthy — I want to say it’s 20 feet.”
Because of its size, the materials handler which consists of a conveyor belt, tag reader and sorting bins must occupy the room that has served as the Director’s office since the library was built in 1928. The room has been cited in the town-commissioned Historic Structure Report for its Philippine mahogany woodwork and period design of its fireplace and glazed door.
Only commissioner Hetty Startup resisted accepting the claim that the book sorter is “critical” to library operations.
“I did go up to Greenfield and they’re not using it in their new library. They chose not to,” she reported.
Startup viewed the FAA design as an inappropriate shift. “What had been the library director’s office is now the mechanical book return system. It’s dissonant to me,” she protested.
Her argument received no support from the other historical commissioners.
In a discussion of the automatic book sorter at an October 2022 meeting of the Jones Library Building Committee (JLBC) it was disclosed that the book sorter and RFID support were estimated to cost between $379,000 and $429,000. Project Manager Craig DiCarlo pointed out that the cost would need to come out of a $440,000 budget line item under Furniture, Fixtures & Equipment (FF&E). This line item also needs to cover audio/visual equipment for the renovated library. If the sorter comes in at the upper end of the range, said DiCarlo, “that would only leave enough funding for about one room’s A/V setup.”
The book sorter is not eligible to be purchased with state construction grant money and so must be paid for by library fundraising and town taxation.
A survey published by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) in 2010 reported that only four public libraries in Massachusetts had installed an automated sorting system. A request to the MBLC for updated statistics has gone unanswered.
Jones Library circulation trends call into question whether the cost of a book sorter is justified.
In 2011, the total circulation of printed materials totaled 332,164 items. By 2022 total print circulation had dropped by 20% to 265,947.
Even more dramatic has been the move toward electronic delivery of library materials. In 2011 the Jones library circulated 259 items in an electronic format. Last year the number of electronically circulated items had grown to 82,057.
Neither the town nor the public has been asked whether the Library’s desire for an automatic book sorter is truly worth the destruction of a valued historical asset or the investment of tax dollars.
Statewide Library Projects Continue to Encounter a Rough Road
Itemlive.com reports that earlier this month Lynnfield Town Meeting members rejected borrowing money for a new $31 million library supported by a $9 million MBLC construction grant. The project cost represents a 72% increase over the original estimate of $18 million.
Noting that the town share of the project cost had risen from $10 million to $25 million, neither the Select Board nor the Finance Committee recommended the article’s approval.
Lynnfield currently has two other capital projects in the works – a public safety building renovation and a middle school project. Select Board member Dick Dalton described the new library as “not a need but a want.”
Lynnfield becomes the 11th of 33 libraries in the Massachusetts 2016-17 construction grant round to turn back a multi-million-dollar award. The Jones Library project, now $10 million over its original $36.3 million appropriation, will require approval of additional funding by two-thirds of the Town Council to move forward into construction. A new cost estimate is in progress and expected to be received next week.
Library Capital Campaign Opts to Keep Fundraiser Compensation Confidential
By agreement with the Town. The Jones Library Capital Campaign, co-chaired by trustee Lee Edwards and Amherst Forward PAC leadership team member, Kent Faerber, is required to regularly report its fundraising revenues and expenses. The Capital Campaign and Library are obligated to raise all funds beyond the April 2021 Town Council appropriation of $15.8 million plus borrowing costs estimated to total $9 million. The memorandum of agreement allows the Capital Campaign to deduct from its Town remittance “any direct and reasonable fundraising costs and expenses.”
The Capital Campaign Report of October 1 showed that campaign expenses have totaled $277,957 to date, including $246,959 in personnel expenses. Since these expenses must be made up by the taxpayers of Amherst, it seems reasonable that a detailed breakdown of fundraising expenses should be made available to the public.
The Amherst Indy has filed a Massachusetts Public Record Request to obtain an accounting of library project fundraising expenses, but the request, which had been forwarded to library director Sharon Sharry, was denied with the explanation that “the town does not track this information.” Because the Capital Campaign is a private non-profit corporation, it is permitted to keep the details of its finances out of view of the public.
In addition to Edwards and Faerber, Capital Campaign fundraisers include Matt Blumenfeld, Claudia Canale-Parola and Ginny Hamilton. Blumenfeld, Canale-Parola and Hamilton are all past members of the Amherst Forward leadership team.
The Amherst Forward PAC, formed in conjunction with Amherst’s passage of a new government charter, endorses candidates for the local election and provides them with campaign assistance. In the five years that the new form of government has existed, Amherst Forward has exclusively helped candidates who support town funding of the $46.1 million library renovation-expansion get elected.
Is there a conflict of interest here?