Stockbridge Select Board, Finance Committee seek representation on library board

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STOCKBRIDGE — The Select Board and the town's Finance Committee have agreed to propose adding town government representation to the private Stockbridge Library Association board of directors.

At a joint meeting Monday evening, Finance Committee Chairman Jay Bikofsky cited "the significant amount of money" the town spends to support the library's operating budget — $186,000, about 41 percent of the facility's overall operating budget of $448,688 for fiscal 2019. In fiscal 2018, the library budget was $392,195, and the town contribution came to $174,075.

"The concern is about fiscal accountability and transparency with respect to having some participation by people from the town on the library board," he said.

Bikofsky suggested "non-voting, non-conflict of interest participation," noting that the town manager and two selectmen have been on the Lenox Library Association's board as so-called ex officio members.

The plan in Stockbridge, he said, is to discuss a similar arrangement with John Gillespie, the new board president at the library. Gillespie, a town resident, is the former vice president of finance at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health and is now with Charles River CFO, a strategic financial firm, where he is the leader of nonprofit and social enterprise activities.

In a joint statement Tuesday, Gillespie and Library Director Katie O'Neil pointed out that "as of today, the Stockbridge Library Association (SLA) leadership has not been notified by the Board of Selectmen about their Aug. 6 plan to add several non-voting town representatives to the SLA board. We greatly appreciate the continuing financial support from the town of Stockbridge and welcome further discussion about this matter."

"The library seems to be very successful," Select Board Chairman Donald Chabon said, a sentiment seconded by Bikofsky.

"It's a lot of money, but it's doing a great job, and everybody agrees with that and knows that," Chabon added. "We just want to keep our finger on the pulse of it, financially. There is no problem; people are very satisfied with the services the library provides."

After meeting with Gillespie and getting approval from the library association's board, Chabon added, the selectmen will discuss who should be appointed as town representatives.

He suggested that "whoever is appointed to represent us should have a financial perspective."

"We don't want to run the library," Bikofsky said. "It just keeps things 100 percent from a transparency standpoint."

Gillespie was appointed as library board president July 1. He succeeds Stewart Edelstein, who remains on the board as secretary.

After completing its $4 million renovation in spring 2016, the Stockbridge Library, Museum & Archives, founded in 1864, posted a sharp spike in library attendance, to 44,442, for the year ending last June 30, compared with 27,186 for fiscal 2014, the last full year the library was open before a two-year shutdown.

The project included a 29 percent expansion in available space inside the Main Street building, prominently featured in Norman Rockwell's illustrations of downtown Stockbridge. It also provided two meeting rooms for community groups.

Programs such as talks and concerts totaled 225 and drew nearly 5,000 people in fiscal 2018. For the same year, total circulation of books and other materials came to slightly less than 30,000.

O'Neil, the library director, has stressed the evolving role of libraries as technology-oriented community information centers.

"The internet is just another tool for information," she has said. "We're always a place to come for trusted, guided help with information. That's more important than ever before, especially for information literacy."

The library expanded its computer workstations as a "community anchor institution" member of the Massachusetts Broadband Initiative, which provides enhanced fiber-connected download speeds, a major attraction for residents who lack access to high-speed internet.

Research has shown that many students find it challenging to draw the line between information and advertising, according to O'Neil, so libraries are developing those skills for patrons, including the difference between news articles and opinion columns and editorials.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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