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Michael and Judy Ryan: Help make Forbes accessible to all

We borrow books, record albums, movie videos, books on tape and DVDs; we attend lectures, public meetings, art exhibits, poetry readings, debates, seminars and forums. We often visit exhibits in the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and don cotton gloves to examine historical documents in the Hampshire Room.

Over the years, we have used the Reference Room to extract genealogical information, pore through the 125-year collection of city directories and copy hundreds of articles from the microfilmed Hampshire Gazettes dating back to 1787.

When our children were young, we took them to mask-making and paper-making classes, as well as puppet shows, music recitals and storytelling in the children’s room. Now, we take our grandchildren to the same kinds of enriching and educational programs.

We are thrilled Forbes continues to be an evolving, culturally diverse, educational and vibrant learning center for the entire community. We firmly believe no city of similar size in the United States has a better library than our Northampton.

But there’s a problem in Meadow City. Not everyone in our community has access to Forbes. Despite an average 900 daily visitors, some of us cannot get inside. Often, for many of us, it’s too great a struggle, too long a wait, and too humiliating process. We are talking about parents with strollers, people in wheelchairs or on crutches, library workers carrying big boxes of books and people delivering packages. We are referring to all those temporarily or permanently mobility-challenged among us.

A generation ago when the front entrance was modernized, a lift was erected to provide access to physically limited library users, but time and technology have rendered this lift obsolete. Worn and broken parts are no longer manufactured and as a result last year it was out of service for seven months. When functional, the lift it slow, difficult to operate, jerky and temperamental.

This is a big problem with an obvious expensive solution. We need an elevator.

The trustees of Forbes has obtained an architect, design plan and a budget. The total price is $300,000, which by law must be raised or pledged before construction can begin. The city of Northampton has generously provided a block grant of $100,000 and we have raised another $100,000. The last $100,000 must come from library patrons committed to the principle of free public libraries for all citizens regardless or physical condition. We have been asked to co-chair this effort.

We embrace this opportunity as an expression of our gratitude for the lifetime of gifts and benefits we have received as members of the Forbes Library family and with a new awareness that many of our friends, neighbors and fellow citizens, equally worthy, do not have access to our library. For us, it is a civil rights issue and there is only one acceptable response: Raise the money. Install the elevator.

For the like-minded and the good-hearted, there are multiple ways to join us in this important venture. Donations can be sent or dropped off at the library or you can visit Forbes website at www.forbeslibrary.org and contribute online. We can arrange monthly payments and even stock transfers.

You can be a volunteer fundraiser and solicit contributions from others. Those able and willing to donate $500 or more will receive a special recognition — their names will be engraved on commemorative plaques within the elevator.

Groups such as graduating or reunion classes, veteran organizations, service clubs, employee or neighborhood groups are also eligible for this honor.

Remember, this is a civil rights issue and we need you with us.

The problem is not those who cannot enter the library; the problem is all of us who go inside and leave others at the bottom step. Please help make Forbes accessible for everyone.

Mike and Judy Ryan of Northampton co-chair the Forbes for All campaign.

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