Letter: Sugar Grove Library in danger

By on July 8, 2010

The Sugar Grove Library is in danger from actions taken by its Board of Trustees. The board has failed to properly understand funding. It has further undertaken unjustifiable actions against the library staff and set a course that will likely result in a far less useful community asset.

First, despite requests from the public to delay their controversial actions for further community input and an analysis of the less draconian options that were presented, the board went forward with budget action that is both incorrect and unconscionable. The board took these actions on a questionable, irregular meeting day at an irregular time inconvenient for the public to comment and observe.

The strength of any library is its staff and services. However, the board chose to cut both pay and hours of its professional employees in exchange for more items on the shelves. A request was made to put this choice before the library patrons, to ascertain if the users—the taxpayers—preferred a few more materials to the outstanding services currently provided. A request was made to try to find a middle ground. The board ignored the options and took financial action against its employees.

Second, the board actions amount to punishing the staff for the board’s own decision. The board determined to build the new library without having a parallel referendum passed by the community to increase the funding to operate it. Continued referendums have also failed.

It is the board’s responsibility to determine why the public will not vote the funds and to present future election day requests in a manner that will be accepted. Making the library less useful and more stressed is certainly counterproductive to gaining community support. The board has demonstrated an inability to listen to the community it was elected to serve—both long term regarding funding referendums and short term regarding how it operates.

Third, the board continues to talk of a financial crisis, yet just decided to increase materials purchased by 330 percent. This action—the reason for cutting staff pay—is certainly excessive. Recently, the library received a donation to the identified primary target group, children, of 800 books. Interlibrary loan accommodates, within a few days, patron requests for materials Sugar Grove does not have. Several bequeaths are directed at material purchases.

The board action to drastically further increase material at the expense of the staff is unjustified. Once again, this board has interjected itself improperly into operations. Board members are not professional librarians, yet they continue to micromanage and over-ride the experience, knowledge and recommendations of the staff.

Fourth, the board has failed to properly manage the library funds. A Special Reserve Fund (SRF) is maintained for capital expenses and cannot be used for operating expenses or the purchase of books. Coupled with the proceeds of the sale of the old building, the reserve funds are more than sufficient for a brand new building containing new equipment. There is no immediate financial crisis, certainly nothing pending that justifies sacrificing community services and staff. Unnecessary hoarding of money while the library deteriorates from within is a certain means to bring on future crisis.

Fifth, the board has voted an incorrect transfer of funds. The library incurred unforeseen additional costs in implementing the new building. These were one-time expenses. For example, two buildings briefly had to be maintained and additional hardware was needed. These expenses were properly the responsibility of either the SRF or the proceeds from the sale of the old building and should have been taken or reimbursed from them. Instead, the board chose to use operating funds (library materials, utilities, payroll). They then sought fiscal year solvency through reimbursement of these capital expenses from another fund (the Rich Fund) that allows material purchases. It is ironic that the board stated they wanted an increase in materials and yet robbed a fund created for that purpose.

Sixth, there is a troubling perception that some board members do not seem to separate their personal feelings from their elected responsibilities. Something seems to be influencing an attitude of retribution. Cuts in staff pay and hours was the “nuclear option” among several reasonable, less drastic choices. If board members cannot elevate above personal distractions, they should reflect on the justification of their continued service.

The next board meeting is Thursday, July 8, at 7 p.m. The meetings begin with a public comment session. Although this board does not seem inclined to listen to the public, I encourage all residents to attend and participate. The community should take an interest in what has been done to its library and where those actions may likely lead.

Douglas Hartman,
Past President
Sugar Grove Public Library
Board of Trustees

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2 Comments

  1. Ken Wiesner

    July 8, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    I agree with Mr. Hartman’s concerns of the Sugar Grove Library Board of Trustees. Like Mr. Hartman I too am a former trustee and share much of his insight.

    The thing I find most troubling though is that it appears the current board believes that materials are more important than being open and providing quality service. During the last few board meetings, trustees have pushed the concept of “working within our means.” I agree! So lets work with what we have and make sure that funding is appropriately allocated to staffing so that we can keep the building open and patrons can use the materials that we already have. For me, the most troubling part of being a Sugar Grove Public Library user is pulling into the parking lot of the brand new building, realizing that you are the only car there and that it’s Monday or Friday afternoon hence the library is closed.

    During the planning of the new building, the library hired Leo A Daley, a consulting firm specializing in construction of libraries, at great expense to come and work with us to design the new library. Over and over the experts told us that the dynamic of the library has changed from what it used to be and continues to change. Instead of having shelves of books and old ladies in hair buns going around shushing people, the libraries of today are town hubs that facilitate information exchange and community networking powered by knowledgable staff ready, willing and able to answer questions and help patrons. This is why we built a new building with community meeting rooms, study rooms, a cafe, a teen area, computer lab, etc. all fully covered with free flowing WiFi.

    I don’t check out books from our library. The library doesn’t have the business and technical books that I read. I have an Amazon Kindle that. But if I didn’t have a Kindle, I could very easily borrow those materials from one of the other libraries in our system. The trained library staff is really good at helping patrons do that! Regardless of how I consume my published content, I still use this Library, I pay taxes that fund this library and from time to time I even volunteer for our library. Why? Because the library is more to me than just a collection of books, it’s all the other value added services that are offered through our facility that keep bringing me back. Once the board’s patron surveys are tabulated, I’m sure we’ll find that I’m not alone.

    To the current Sugar Grove Library Board of Trustees I ask of you please do not cut funding from the staff. If anything, allocate MORE funding to the staff so we can be open on Mondays and Friday afternoons.

    In closing, I will echo Mr. Hartman’s call to action and encourage everyone to please come to tonight’s meeting and voice your opinion during public comment. If you are unable to attend, you can listen to the meetings at http://www.sugargroveonline.com, download the Events Podcast and send your thoughts to the trustees via email at trustees@sugargrove.lib.il.us.

  2. hellostuman

    July 15, 2010 at 8:01 AM

    The real question was why it was built in the first place? I’m not on the board, so maybe I don’t know all the facts, but we had a Library, from what I could tell, was just fine for what a town of our size needs. Maybe instead of building the Taj Mahal of libraries we could have used a portion of that money to solve any shortcomings the old one had.

    If the proposed downtown area ever becomes a reality, then that would have been the time to spend the money to build new, but in a more logical location. If the new downtown area is developed per the conception, building the library where it stands doesn’t make sense. I would have assumed you’d want that building to be a show piece of the city and have it located right in the heart of the village. Where it stands today, you wouldn’t be able to walk there from the future downtown.

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