Nightly grad classes, technical difficulties, daddy duty, and a job that actually pays the bills have all conspired to prevent me from staying on top of the closing of Warren Memorial Library in a timely manner. Nevertheless, a few thoughts on the situation:
The Warren Memorial Foundation's (WMF) silence is deafening and could ultimately hamper the organization's ability to carry out its mission.
Since the initial announcement of the library's imminent closing on Friday, March 6, the Friends of the Warren Memorial Library (and its antecedent Facebook group) have driven the narrative in this story. To be sure, this is partly due to the fact that the Friends naturally star in the stories they are inspiring. But the WMF's decision to either communicate through one board member or its decision to remain publicly mum have only accentuated the degree to which the protestors are able to frame this story.
The fact that the designated spokesman, Rene Daniel, was not serving on the board when the foundation voted to renovate the library in 2002-2003 lessened his credibility when he was required to defend the WMF against accusations that the library's closure has more to do with the Foundation's financial mismanagement of the aforementioned renovation than the board's passive role in the recent downturn of the stock market ("More Warren Library News"). Moreover, Daniel's recent declaration that he doesn't "believe the board owes [activists] an explanation" of the board's financials and for its decision to close the library is perfectly emblematic of the bullheaded approach the foundation has assumed in dealing with the resistance to close the library.
And while the WMF's tight-lipped, stuffed-ear approach has helped their cause by effectively starving the Friends of any information they can use to set actionable goals (about a month into their protest, the activists are still merely resigned to giving its best Jerry Maguire impersonation by hopefully--and vaguely--begging to help make the library financially solvent), the WMF's turtle-shell approach ultimately disrespects the people the foundation was created to serve. Consequently, such a well-publicized "fuck you" (excuse the harsh language, but there's no better way to describe it) threatens to undermine public trust and confidence in the trustees, both which are needed if the foundation can continue to carry out its mission.
Friends of the Warren Memorial Library need to make a better case for why Westbrook needs two libraries.
Nearly anytime my wife and I borrow a book, DVD, or a magazine, we go to Warren Memorial. We've attended book club meetings at the library, gone to concerts, supported the library financially with my regular overdue fees, and our daughter has spent the last three or four Fridays hanging out at Bouncing Babies. Put simply, we should be a natural constituency for the Save the Warren Library! cause. Alas, we are not.
That's because we have not convinced ourselves--let alone anyone else--why the City of Westbrook or its residents should fund two libraries only three-quarters of a mile away from one another. When a private foundation funded one library and the City funded another, I was thrilled to brag about the quirky fact that our small city had two outstanding independent libraries right down the paved ribbon from each another. Now that the private foundation isn't at all interested in paying for that service, though, such a luxury just seems excessive-- regardless of the economic climate. Moreover, my concerns about duplicative services are matched by my interest in what the foundation has in mind in terms of diversifying Westbrook's cultural offerings. To be sure, the WMF could've helped me (and themselves) by immediately complementing their plans to close the library with specific plans for the building's future, but I am intrigued by the possibilities the building provides.
The Friends' reliance on nostalgia as an argument has not convinced me Walker is unable to create those same memories (or indeed has created those same memories) for other families, nor has their warranted fist-shaking at the WMF convinced me the City should open its pocketbook any wider than is required to accept Warren Memorial's collection.
The City Council should consider only the best interests of Walker Memorial Library.
The brouhaha between the Warren Memorial Library and the Friends is a spat between a private foundation and its patrons. Therefore, the City Council should consider the Warren Memorial situation only from the perspective of the effects the library's closing would have on the library funded by taxpayer dollars. Namely, City Councilors should judge whether Walker Memorial's acceptance of Warren Memorial's 30,000-book/video collection would make it a better library, not whether a decision against taking the books would prolong--or perhaps even void--the closing of Warren. Moreover, the City Council should evaluate what services Walker currently provides and tweak them to cater to post-Warren demands.
Revising Walker's policies such as the lack of Saturday hours and re-scheduling activities to cater to a broader audience should be the focus of tonight's meeting, not what the City can do to save a library that doesn't want saving.
- John C.L. Morgan