Edwards Public Library expands its hours, on track for certification

  • Barbara Goldin, the director of the Edwards Public Library in Southampton, checks in books on Wednesday. The library has recently extended its hours. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Barbara Goldin, the director of the Edwards Public Library in Southampton, and Mary Robinson, a volunteer, work in the library on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Barbara Goldin, the director of the Edwards Public Library in Southampton, checks in books on Wednesday. The library has recently extended its hours. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/5/2022 8:55:35 PM
Modified: 1/5/2022 8:54:56 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — Edwards Public Library is starting the new year off with expanded hours.

The library is now open 38 hours a week after voters unanimously approved an article at Southampton’s December special Town Meeting to transfer $9,897 from the town’s retirement account to fund the wage, utilities and maintenance accounts. Passage of the article means the library meets all requirements necessary for certification and can expand its hours, according to library Director Barbara Goldin.

“We are so pleased,” Goldin said. “We are so grateful for the support of our residents in Southampton.”

Like many departments in Southampton, the library has had to tighten its belt over the last few years. After voters rejected a $718,467 Proposition 2½ budget override in June, the library cut back to 29 hours per week and cut its four substitute staff positions. The defeat of the override also meant the library did not meet the certification standards in the State Aid to Public Libraries program for the next fiscal year and needed to apply for a waiver for the second consecutive year.

In 2014, Goldin noted that the library had stopped paying for landscaping around the building and began relying on volunteers to aid with outdoor chores, according to an earlier Gazette report.

In order to receive funds from the State Aid to Public Libraries program, a municipality and its library must be certified by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners as meeting statutory and regulatory requirements, said Celeste Bruno, spokesperson for the MBLC. Among those requirements is a minimum yearly budget, with Southampton falling short of the of the state’s threshold by $9,897 for fiscal year 2022.

Goldin said that while she is grateful for the MBLC’s approval of past waivers, relying on waivers to maintain services is not a sustainable approach.

If a library loses certification, its patrons may no longer make use of interlibrary loan services, and may not make use of library resources in other communities. The library also would not be allowed to apply for state or federal grants and would lose access to state financial aid, which totaled about $10,522 last year. Goldin likened losing certification to being shunned.

Although libraries can work to become recertified, the road back can take up to five years based on a year-by-year plan the MBLC has outlined.

While Southampton will not require a waiver this time around, there are a total of 28 waiver applications that have been submitted around the state, according to Bruno. Applications will be voted on in February. Among those seeking waivers from western Massachusetts are Adams, Ashfield, Greenfield, North Adams, Palmer, Ware, Wales, West Springfield and Windsor.

In addition to the minimum funding requirement, a municipality and its library must also must meet the minimum standards of free public library service, which includes being open a minimum number of hours per week and a certain amount of money spent on library materials, which is again determined by a formula set by the state. For a municipality the size of Southampton with a population of 6,224 — according to the 2020 census — Edwards Public Library should be open at least 25 hours per week, which includes some evening hours.

The MBLC has adapted the state aid requirements twice during the pandemic. A vote will be taking place after press time on whether to suspend the open hours requirement.

Moving forward

Youth Librarian Johanna Rodriguez Douglass said that one of the many side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and budget cuts has been the way the library has looked at its programming and attempted to maintain both in-person and online reading programs.

“You can imagine that providing two different types of services for the public was challenging. This is true for every library, but with little money coming into the library in the form of donations and with our limited hours, the Edwards Library was affected more than most,” Douglass said. “I have put a greater effort into getting more bang for the buck with my programming … I have also relied on the goodwill of talented people that live in our community who accept stipends for their work. This includes writers, musicians, magicians and teachers.”

Douglass also noted that she has formed collaborations as a way to save money, including working with the Hampden Hampshire Conservation District, as well as many volunteers.

“We have always been thoughtful about how we spend money, and the last two years have required an even more frugal approach,” she said. “We are looking forward to being available to serve more people with our expanded hours. When people come into the library, we want them to feel safe, but to get the public excited about coming into the library, we need quality materials and interesting programs. I am actually excited about 2022 and I am hopeful that we can do so much more!”

Edwards Public Library is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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