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Editorial: The Forbes access challenge

The great and historic mission of free public libraries in this country is to provide information to all people, regardless of their means, in pursuit of knowledge and involved citizenship. But it is tough to get access if you can not gain access.

For some, that’s the situation on too many days at the 120-year-old Forbes Library in Northampton, where an old lift has more days out of service than in.

Northampton’s main public library is on a campaign to raise $200,000 for a new hydraulic elevator to replace the unreliable electric-powered lift just inside the library’s main entrance.

Without a lift or an elevator, patrons are out of luck if, for whatever reason, they cannot make it up the Victorian-era granite steps. A ramp is not feasible because of the elevation of the building. No floor is at ground level. Once inside, a 30-year-old elevator moves people between floors just fine.

In 2012, the chair lift was out-of-order for seven months, 58 percent of the days the library was open. Parts are hard to get, and even when it is working the device lurches and makes loud noises. Library Director Janet Moulding describes the lift as “the scariest amusement park ride you’ve every been on.”

When operating, the lift is used six to 10 times a day by people with disabilities or injuries, the elderly, parents with strollers and delivery people.

People visit the library for many reasons beyond checking out books and doing research. The library’s new computer room is humming. The local history room, art gallery and the room devoted to the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library host events and regular visitors. There are e-books, e-readers and musical instruments to be borrowed along with a treasure trove of video from the former Pleasant Street Video store. The Forbes is busier than ever with about 900 people checking out 1,300 items a day, up 20 percent over the previous year.

A fundraising campaign has secured $100,000. The city of Northampton is providing a block grant of $100,000. Now, Forbes’ loyal supporters are working overtime on the worthy project to attract $100,000 in donations from library patrons.

Community Preservation Act money cannot be used for a handicap-accessibility project unless it is part of an historic restoration project. That is a guideline in the CPA law set by the state which, in our opinion, is overly restrictive. Any public building which needs to be made accessible should be eligible for CPA funds.

The elevator will be constructed in the entryway where the lift is now and work will start as soon as the money is in hand. To learn more go to the library web site at forbeslibrary.org.

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