Ilsley Library board candidates weigh in

Middlebury voters on Town Meeting Day, March 6, will have an unusually large number of candidates to choose from for the Ilsley Library Board of Trustees. Seven candidates are vying for three positions on the board. Interest has no doubt been fueled by the changing nature of information dissemination in society today and by efforts to renovate the historic library building at 75 Main St.
There are two races. In one, incumbent John Freidin and fellow Middlebury residents Joseph McVeigh, Amy Mincher and David Munford are competing for two available three-year terms on the Ilsley Library board. In the other race, incumbent Barbara Doyle-Wilch, Patricia Chatary and Alice Eckles are vying for one one-year term on the library board.
In an effort to help area voters get to know these candidates a little bit better, the Independent asked them to answer two questions, and to keep their responses within a limited number of words.
David Munford has been out of state and could not be reached for this article. The other six candidates were asked:
1. What is your vision for the Ilsley and Sarah Partridge libraries and their role in the community over the next decade?
2. As Middlebury pursues plans for eventual library renovation, what especially would you hope is included?
Here are their answers; the questions are not repeated in the context of each candidate’s response.
Alice Eckles
Both the Ilsley and the Sarah Partridge libraries are serving vital roles as places for social and educational events and gatherings as well as a place for solitary reading, writing, researching, and quiet time. My vision is for active library use to continue uninterrupted during necessary renovations, and potential expansion of the Ilsley library. The interests and needs of current users of the library must inform the creative process of modestly expanding the library to beautifully meet the needs of the community while not overburdening tax payers.
As a frequent library user I would like to see more quiet spaces to sit and relax with a book. I enjoy sitting on the bench in the Ilsley library garden in the warm months and would love to see a sort of mini bio dome, and indoor garden space to walk through and enjoy flowers, greenery, maybe even a fountain all year round. Libraries are places of refuge from both work and home, where people are free to go without feeling they are loitering. I want to preserve our temple of learning open to all equally, and allow it to grow so that it best nurtures our community.
Perhaps the British writer Caitlin Moran describes my ideal of a great Library best:
“A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. On a cold, rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen, instead. … A mall — the shops — are places where your money makes the wealthy wealthier. But a library is where the wealthy’s taxes pay for you to become a little more extraordinary, instead.”
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Barbara Doyle-Wilch
1. The Ilsley Library has a wonderful aspirational mission statement: “Ilsley Library embodies the vigor and ambition of our community. We are accessible, lively, and inviting to all. The library is a hub for learning, public dialogue and quiet relaxation.” We have a lot of work to do to make this mission a reality. I hope, as a Board member, to help the Library come closer to this mission. There should be something for everyone in our public library and we need to listen to the many parts of our community to assure that it is “…accessible, lively and inviting…” I have worked with all types of libraries throughout the U.S. as a librarian, as a library director and as a consultant for over 50 years. I have seen that the strongest libraries are those that reflect their communities. A library needs to change as their community changes. The Library Board should facilitate the conversations that leads the library to reflect Middlebury.
2. The library should provide opportunity for discovery of those things that you are looking for and that thing that you may not have intended to find. It may be a book, a painting, a conversation or a poetry reading. A library allows you to step out of your “category” (age, social status, interests, ambitions, etc.) and enjoy an environment that is inclusive of the entire community. I would strive for the library to be safe, accessible by all, clean, inviting and comfortable. The library building must be flexible so that its uses can change as the community changes but always remain relevant. I would strive for the library to be a point of pride by the townspeople. I would strive for a library that will knit the community together through the love of learning.
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Amy Mincher
I have been an active Ilsley patron since I was a child. The library has been a wonderful place for me to explore my interests through reading, volunteering, and participating in programs. Over the next decade, I hope that the library will continue to be a place for community members of all ages to find what they need. As a museum director, I have seen how carefully curated programs can welcome new audiences and cultivate a sense of community. The library can do this too, especially with underserved populations. I will be an active cheerleader for the library, sharing about all the great things that happen at the Ilsley. I hope to work with staff and trustees to broadcast daily through social media platforms to ensure that everyone knows what is happening at the library.
Having spent so much time at the library throughout my life, I have benefitted from the previous additions and renovations. It is time for an update. A new children’s room that is easily accessible for young families is first and foremost as well as spaces for tweens and teens. We need more small meeting spaces in the library so that groups can congregate for book clubs, card games, foreign language practice, and other meetings. A new space for large groups and presentations is also important. I have noticed that there is a need for a place where library patrons can eat a snack; it would be nice if there was a dedicated place that would be easy to keep clean rather than among the stacks. While I’m excited about the future of the library and the renovations that need to occur, it is important to make sure the community is involved in the planning process as we design a space that benefits everyone.
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John S. Freidin
1. I envision Ilsley and Sarah Partridge becoming — from staff to stacks, from programs to facilities — the most welcoming and affirming spaces in Middlebury. They will remain dedicated to building community and helping users discover what interests them. But they will continuously seek more varied ways to achieve these goals. They will respond to the changing realities of our lives — technological, cultural, and financial — with fresh materials and new programs. Our libraries will continue to be especially devoted to children and youth; senior citizens; and families unable to afford afterschool classes, summer camp, computers, or Internet service. To advise the staff and Trustees on emerging needs and trends, I will encourage the Trustees to create two Citizen Advisory Committees — one of students and one of adults. To succeed our libraries must be engaged with the community they serve.
2. Our children must be moved out of the basement into brighter, healthier, and safer spaces that provide designated areas for each age group. The entrances to our libraries should be more welcoming, more easily accessible to all, and within sight of staff. Ilsley needs to replace its failing heating/cooling system with one that is reliable and efficient. The elevator in Ilsley frequently breaks down and should be replaced with one that is dependable and meets ADA code. We should preserve our garden and create additional outdoor space for reading and relaxation. All new spaces should be flooded with natural light and architecturally flexible so walls and wiring can be easily moved. Any renovation or expansion must be VERY energy efficient and cheerful. And I hope Ilsley will include spaces that attract more people to the library, for example, a town Visitors Center, job posting board, and bicycle storage.
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Tricia Chatary
1. Because for many — residents and visitors alike — a library is a touchstone to a community, it’s important to have a balance between the nostalgic “feel” of the Ilsley and the real 21st century accommodations necessary for a modern institution.
But it’s not just about technologic gadgetry and more space. As a board member I think it’s important to be a good listener, especially to those who are on the front lines of patron interaction. Library staff is a great resource for observing usage and trends among the library’s patrons. An annual, or even semi-annual, survey would help the board to keep on top of the issues. The suggestion box is useful in its own small way to gather opinions. However, additional, consistent open gatherings wherein patrons can weigh in face-to-face would also help the Board and staff keep their fingers on the public pulse. The more a population has buy-in to an institution the more likely will be their support. Conversely, the public can see how the library’s adherence to best practices is to everyone’s benefit.
2. The children’s area needs a better space, a large and welcoming place for library-appropriate activities, such a workshops, readings, guest presenters, among others.
I’d like to see a more open and dedicated reception desk, perhaps semi-circular, staffed by more than one person during peak times with an “Express Lane” for those in a hurry.
Security is important on more than one level: Having a single secure entrance would address the physical access issue. There is also cyber-security to consider, i.e. being mindful of potential threats with regard to a patron’s freedom to do research.
Lastly, as an indulgence, it’d be swell to have a coffee shop, a cozy area to enjoy a beverage and allow for cell phone usage, separate from designated “quiet zones.”
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Joe McVeigh
1. As we move further into the 21st century, we need Ilsley and Sarah Partridge to be responsive to changes in technology, demographics, and the needs of residents to bring people, information and ideas together to enrich lives and build community. We need to continue to recognize the vital importance of reading to open doors and expand horizons through active engagement in the life of the community. In the excitement over plans to renovate Ilsley, we must ensure that Sarah Partridge and the Community House continues to be a warm and welcoming place for East Middlebury residents. I’d like to see us invest in our staff, technology, and infrastructure to improve service. I’d like to see how the library can extend its reach and impact in the community through partnerships with individuals, public and nonprofit agencies, community groups, educators and businesses.
2. While it isn’t going to grab any headlines, Ilsley’s fundamental needs are those critical but unseen systems below the surface. Ilsley must have its basic mechanical systems improved. The failing elevator breaks down regularly. The over-used restrooms have recurring problems. The heating and air-handling systems operate inefficiently, and the basement has issues with mold and mildew. In recent years we have addressed facilities needs for town departments and services including police, fire, recreation, and town offices, while the library has continually stood by like a student shyly raising a hand to whisper, “Excuse, me, but I have some needs, too.” It’s time to listen and pay some attention to an institution that has a disproportionate influence on the life of our town and especially the future of the children and young people of Middlebury. As a board member, I will work to be a good steward of the town’s financial and material resources while planning responsibly for the future.

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