THURSDAY, MAYWOOD — They were gathered around a long mahogany conference table in the board room of the building constructed in 1905 by Andrew Carnegie’s vast steel fortune, but sustained by countless Maywoodians with stories similar to Marilyn Hefner’s.
Hefner has lived in this town for nearly fifty years. She raised three boys here, one of whom came back as a man to visit one summer. While he was here, he stopped by the library. “The women who work here all remembered him!” Marylin said. “I have another son with a lazy eye who wore a patch and he’d tear it off once in a while. They still find his patches in the books!”
“How the library goes,” said Marilyn, “that’s how Maywood goes.”
Before a Board vote taken last Thursday to grant the Library’s director, Stan Huntington, the authority to close the century-and-a-half old institution, about a half dozen Maywood residents voiced their concerns, which often turned into testimonials.
“I feel sad,” said one woman who was seated at the conference table with her toddler son. “This is our big bragging point about living in Maywood […] This is the best library around. It has an entire second floor dedicated to children [and] we have the best librarians as well. They know your children, they know what you like.”
“I use this library for meetings and we do all kinds of great things here,” said Phyllis Duncan, the founder of a local nonprofit called Mothers Against Murdered Sons (MOMS) and host of Comcast’s “The Maywood Show.” “What can I do and what can we do to try to keep this [library] open […] I can’t see it closing.”
Mr. Huntington, the very figure for whom the library’s possible closure seems to pain most, voiced what sounded like both an appeal and a lament. He couldn’t stress enough the library’s centralizing function in Maywood. It’s more than a place where people checkout books.
More than 3,000 people use the library computers every month. Lunch for is served from the top floor four days a week through the Community Nutrition Network for seniors (CNN) . Seniors also occupy the top floor for sowing (Mondays and Wednesdays) and crocheting (Tuesdays and Thursdays). According to Huntington, during any given week, some 40 organizations, which range from Library District’s Toastmaster’s Club to Maywood Youth Mentoring (MYM), vie for the two meeting rooms and the small room on the first floor. In addition to nonprofits, small businesses utilize the library for meeting as well.
“This is really the center of the community and one of the major, if not the major, place for people to go,” said Huntington, who also pointed out that the problems facing the Maywood Library aren’t isolated. Municipal libraries all over the country are going through the same struggle, in what may amount to a national identity crisis facing libraries in general. Places once considered citadels of the print-based world are becoming more and more alien to younger generations more comfortable seeking out information and a sense of community online and in a physical space of their own.
“The library is in the middle of [a digital wave]. People don’t understand what the library is about–other than books,” said Rev. Wimbush, a member of the Library’s board of directors. He said that nowadays the importance of “going to a shelf and pulling a volume out that you know someone has taken great pains to publish is invaluable.” However, the factual integrity of bound books doesn’t seem to be holding off the digital tidal wave of the internet–from Facebook and Twitter to Wikipedia and even Google Books.
Citing just one example, Mr. Huntington shared the story of the Troy Public Library in Troy, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. The Troy Library faced the chopping block in 2010 after City Council slashed all of its funding. In fact, troubled libraries have become so widespread that there’s a website devoted to them.
According to savelibraries.org, “We are in the midst of what American Library Association and the Center for Library and Information Innovation at the University of Maryland call a ‘perfect storm” of growing community demand for library services and shrinking resources to meet that demand.'”
It’s a perfect storm that Jeanine Tietz, the chair of the English department at Walther Lutheran High School and a Maywood resident, seemed acutely aware. She said she’s been working to raise her students’ awareness about Maywood Library’s online database and about the library in general. She suggested that the library, instead of completely closing , at least stay open for two hours a day after school, during the time of day when kids need it the most.
Mrs. Tietz’s suggestion was one among a slew of last-ditch, Hail Mary pleas that residents at last Thursday’s meeting lobbed into the tense air. Mayor Perkins suggested that the library conduct a fundraiser. She even orally committed herself to a $250 donation “to start off the fundraiser that’s sitting at this table.” She also suggested that citizens “write Seaway and appeal to them” to reconsider their stance on the library loan and perhaps loosen the terms. “Seaway is supposed to be working with the community and [the library, perhaps the bank’s second largest account after the Village itself] is part of the community,” she said.
“I’m willing to make a plea to surrounding libraries,” said JoAnn Murphy. “Because if this one closes, they get the overflow.”
Maywood resident Isiah Brandon alluded to the fractured nature of the town’s political entities. He said that since the library is a separate taxing body from the Village, some officials perceive the library, and its struggles, as separate issues. “There are some Board members who believe [the library’s financial distress] is not a Maywood problem,” he said, before advocating for a grassroots blitz to drum-up support for any measures that might save the library.
“It takes only four votes to pass anything,” he said. “Pressure [needs to be] put on [trustees] to let them know that their seats are up during election time.”
Getting back to more immediate concerns, Jessie Nolen asked whether or not the library’s bills were getting paid. “We’re not able to pay all of the bills. The payroll as of last Friday was current, but I have no ability to function beyond that,” said Huntington. “Next week, [employees] won’t get paid.”
In the wake of this bomb-like announcement, Marilyn Hefner’s ominous opinion echoed through hearts that had been emotionally drained by the news. “When you close down a library, it will have a profoundly detrimental affect on the community,” said Rhonda Sherrod. And then, not long after those words were spoken, the meeting adjourned. VFP
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