EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 4, 2013

Library on the hill could be shelved

Administrator proposes the closing of Taylor Library

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune.com

---- — DERRY — Patrons, staff and supporters are trying to close the book on the town administrator’s plan to close the Taylor Library.

Town Administrator John Anderson’s recommendation to shut the small library in the East Derry village is prompting calls, emails and conversations on the street for town councilors.

“They are very upset and are calling and emailing town councilors,” library director Linda Merrill, a 23-year employee, said yesterday. “They can’t believe this.”

Councilors hold the fate of the 135-year-old library in their hand.

As a boy, America’s first man in space, Alan B. Shepard, took part in a human chain that moved books across the street from the Upper Village Hall into the library building his uncle Frederick gave the town.

The library is named for the two sisters, Harriet and Emma Taylor, who each gave $1,000 to open the town’s first library at Upper Village Hall.

“I was devastated, I was blindsided,” Merrill said.

If Anderson’s recommendation is accepted by the council, the library could close July 1.

Anderson deemed the $176,000 Taylor budget unaffordable for the town at this time, given the existence of Derry Public Library in nearby downtown. The proposed budget for Derry Public Library is $1.3 million.

Anderson did not return phone calls yesterday.

“Total shock,” is how new library trustee Kim Burke described her reaction.

“I just couldn’t believe it. This is such a historic piece of the community,” she said. “I just think it would be like closing the heart of the community.”

Her sons, Adam and Nicholas, have both used the library.

Adam, 15, at a meeting Tuesday, appealed to the Town Council to save the library. His Eagle Scout project was installing shelves at the library.

“The reason that I chose to do my Eagle project for Taylor Library was that I wanted to give back to the little library that has helped me my whole life,” Adam told councilors.

Former Town Council Chairman Paul Needham defended the library at the meeting, too.

About 2,000 people hold library cards for Taylor Library. The library is open to anyone who lives, works or attends school in Derry.

The building has a little more than 1,000 square feet of space and holds about 25,000 volumes. Librarians have to rotate Christmas and other seasonal books due to limited room.

But Taylor Library is a beloved institution for parents in the neighborhood who bring their young children to storytime.

“It is really important to the families here,” Cora Rivard said as daughter Mia, 5, participated in storytime activities. “I’m disappointed. We’ve been coming here a couple of years. This is a key part of the community.”

Dan Donovan had daughter Kailyn, 2, at storytime yesterday. He said he finds the town’s consideration of closure discouraging.

“Don’t ever close this place,” he said. “This is just horrifying.”

A majority of the seven-member council appears to be leaning toward keeping Taylor open. Supporters include Councilors Brad Benson, whose father, Grant, was a long-time trustee, Phyllis Katsakiores, Neil Wetherbee and Al Dimmock.

Councilor Mark Osborne said he is keeping an open mind.

He is hearing not just from constituents defending the library, but also taxpayers concerned about their bills.

“Today I’m getting my first emails that take a different view,” Osborne said. “Some other folks out there, another group that says ‘we’re the rest of the town,’ are saying we’d like you to consider the savings.”

Benson said he opposes closure and he can’t imagine council approval.

“This is East Derry’s library,” Benson said. “It is a great children’s library.”

Wetherbee said he is strongly against closing the library. But three new councilors campaigned on controlling taxes and the town is faced with a potential tax rate hike of more than $3 this fall, he said.

“Everybody wants to control taxes, but nobody wants to lose services,” Wetherbee said.

Councilors don’t fault Anderson’s recommendation, given the town’s tax situation and potential duplication of services between the libraries downtown and in East Derry.

“I certainly want all options on the table, whether they are popular or not,” Osborne said.

From a purely business standpoint, an argument can be made for closing Taylor due to its proximity to the downtown library, about two miles away, and the condition of the facility, Wetherbee said.

But for the council, there are other considerations in approving a budget.

“We, as councilors, have to look more toward what the public wants and expects,” Wetherbee said.

But Dimmock is opposed to closure.

“No way. When you figure out the difference in savings for the town from closing, it’s not worth it. It’s miniscule,” he said.

The public will have a say at a budget hearing in May, but Benson said the council could put the issue to rest beforehand.

New Hampshire hasn’t shuttered any libraries in recent years, but state librarian Michael York concedes these are difficult times.

“The issue here for East Derry is, if the library is closed, how can people get the services they are used to?” York said.

“But the decision rests with the citizens of the town.”

Merrill knows that.

“If you love the library like you say you do, please call the town councilors, or email them, let them know you are not in favor of the zero-funded balance,” Merrill said. “If that doesn’t happen, we will be closed July 1. There will be no little library on the hill.”