To The Daily Sun,
I am writing as the head of circulation of the Meredith Public Library and do not speak for the library, other staff members, or the Board of Trustees. As well as working at the library, I am a resident of the town. I am obviously writing from a biased perspective, and for the record I will state that bias.
I believe the town of Meredith needs and deserves a new library. The staff are not able to deliver the services and level of service that we would wish and that this great community deserves, because of the space we are in. I also feel a great deal of anxiety because of the safety and access issues present in the current structure.
None of this is to detract from the great history of this building, nor is it to imply that the use of this structure for some other purpose is unfeasible, but it is my belief that it no longer meets the community's needs as a library. Opinions on this matter will differ, and it is my hope that the community will have an informed debate on how best to meet the needs of the community. It is the goal of this letter to provide some information for that debate and also to address some misconceptions.
A recurring topic being raised with regards to the Board of Trustees' consideration of a new site is that the town of Meredith has three libraries, the public library, the elementary school library and the high school library. This is true. It is also true that the Meredith Public Library can and does collaborate with the schools, and we will continue to try and find new ways to do so moving forward. This being said, the differences between school and public libraries in both usage and function are significant.
The central role of the school library is to support the school's curriculum. While promoting recreational reading and online browsing, these are used to support student success. A public library provides access to all for personal growth and recreation. It creates a community space, offers unfiltered access to information, and provides information professionals to help guide and inform. While many values are shared between these institutions, differences in missions and resources are significant.
There is also a legal component to school library usage that is in direct conflict with public library usage. A school is in loco parentis. The school becomes the parent while children are at school. It is a safe haven. Access to schools is restricted. Public libraries are not restricted. The public librarian is not under the obligation of in loco parentis. Parents are responsible for children's behavior at all times in a public library. We do not screen who enters the public library. Anyone, regardless of their legal record, is allowed to use the library with no restriction. A school's need to keep students safe supersedes individual's privacy, while in a public library privacy is paramount.
Another key difference is access. One of the most popular events at the library is story-time whose main audience is children five years and under. As most of these children are not yet old enough to be in elementary school there access to the schools' libraries is extremely limited. Also, school librarians do not have the training and experience to cater to this younger audience. Home-school students are also more likely to use the public library than school libraries for both educational and social growth.
Time of access is also a major difference. Accessing school libraries outside of school hours and specifically during the summer is often impossible. Should the schools be paying additional staff to maintain the library and to keep the school building open for these hours, or is the public library both the more economic and appropriate resource?
A final element to consider here (though I am sure there are many other issues that could be addressed) is how families access the library. Many patrons will simultaneously check out adult and children's material and teens may have interest in both young adult and adult materials. A school library will not have access to the same materials, because they have different needs and responsibilities. In a new library it would be possible to have adult and youth programs at the same time, so parents and guardians could attend events geared toward them while their children were still in view and had activities of their own.
The public library by its very name is open to all and we should focus our resources on helping all of the diverse users who visit. This means creating a collection that includes great books for children of all ages and adults. It means large print books and audiobooks for different avenues of access. It also means having computers and DVDs available for different interests. A 21st century library needs to have both quiet and loud spaces and have programs that interest different audiences: from genealogy to LEGO building. The library has struggled for a number of years to provide these services to all within our existing structure, particularly with regards to access. It is my hope that a new structure will be able to better meet these challenges, and provide the greatest possible services to all.
Head of Circulation
Meredith Public Library