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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

May 6, 2008

Schenectady ponders: 18 months without our Central Library

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,Schenectady Synecdoche,viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 5:31 pm

update (May 11, 2008): See our post “outcry earns a reprieve for Schenectady’s Library” (May 11, 2008), which explains new plans by County officials to ask for alternative renovation bids that hopefully would reduce disruptions in service at the Central Library.

Despite our relief, I hope many concerned citizens will attend the County Legislature’s May Meeting Tuesday at 7 PM, to let them know that their first approach was totally unacceptable — both the lack of public input and the lack of respect for the Library and its users — and that our leaders are, at best, on probation and will be monitored closely by the Library’s friends.

Many thanks to all the members of the public, including the Friends of Schenectady Public Library, who quickly and effectively put pressure on County officials to reverse their disastrous plan.

Update & Notice (May 10, 2008): County Legislature May Meeting: Members of the public will have the opportunity to speak their minds about closing the Library during its renovation on Tuesday, May 13, at 7 PM, at the County Legislature’s monthly meeting (held at the County Office Building, 620 State St., 6th Floor). However the May Meeting Agenda does not contain any resolution concerning the Library expansion project, and no formal action can be taken on that topic. The agenda is quite lengthy, so there will be a long wait before the floor is opened to the public for general comments.

Compromise Plan: It appears that County leaders (e.g., Kathy Rooney the County Manager, Susan Savage, Legislative Chair, and Gary Hughes, chair of the Legislature’s Library Committee) have heard the public outcry and are working on a compromise plan that would improve the way the Library’s current building is used (e.g., putting public space on the 2nd floor), and replace the operating systems, without changing the current shell of the building, and in a manner that will greatly reduce the period(s) in which the building will need to be closed. I have no idea how the Legislature could be accepting bids — or contractors crafting their bids — on the project before the revised plan is adopted.

Rally Against Closing the Library: (May 12, 2008, Monday, 8 AM): The Rally has been canceled, due to the news about alternative plans that would avoid a long closing. I’m betting it is merely postponed, as we will very likely need to nudge along our “leaders” on this project long before the construction is over.

Original Posting:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.” . . . Upton Sinclair, US novelist, investigative journalist & socialist politician (1878 – 1968)

There are times when the inane actions of our local “leaders” or our justice system here in Schenectady County [NY] leave me merely amused or bemused — affectionately shaking my head, as I often do over the foibles or feeble-mindedness of relatives and friends. But, there are other times — as with my sustained objection to sex offender residency restrictions — when I am truly outraged by the combination of duplicity, incompetence and high-handed arrogance that leads to inexplicably dreadful decisions by our so-called civil servants and political leaders.

The totally-unexpected announcement last week (after years of “planning”) that our Central library would shortly have to close for 18 months, due to the expansion and reconstruction of the building, clearly calls for outrage rather than bemusement.

See “Library to shut during project: Trustees: Closure will make expansion quicker, cheaper” (Schenectady Daily Gazette, by Kathleen Moore, May 1, 2008).

As I have already left rather tart Comments online about the closing in response to this, and this, and that Gazette article, I shall attempt to be more dispassionate in this posting, despite my frustration.

At the bottom of this posting (under the fold, if you are reading this from our homepage), I’ve listed the major articles, editorials and Letters to the Editor about the library closing that have appeared in the Daily Gazette since the “plan” was announced publicly five days ago. I’ve included particularly illuminating quotes from each piece. In addition you can find continuing coverage and comments about the library closing at Schenectady’s Virtual Internet Community, and the Rotterdam NY Internet Community website. The f/k/a Gang will attempt to keep that list up to date as this story unfolds.

SchdyCountySeal Want to express an opinion to our elected or appointed officials? Click here for the Schenectady County Government website, and here for contact information on our County Legislators. Library contact information is here.

Members of Friends of the Schenectady Public Library have responded quickly and forcefully to this crisis. See, e.g., “Library closure plan draws fire” (Daily Gazette, by Michael Lamendola, May 6, 2008); and “Speak out against plan to close Sch’dy library” (Letter to the Editor, Daily Gazette, by John Karl, May 6, 2008). The Library has attempted to diminish the importance of the closing by noting that while 1400 people use the Central Library every day, a mere 10% of that “traffic” comes from the downtown 12305 zip code, where the Library is located. (Their implication, I guess, is that since the others are driving to the Central Library, they can just drive to a nearby branch. For the record, I live a mile from the Central Library and go there almost every day. It will cost me about $2 in gas to go instead to the nearest non-tiny branch.)

In an Op/Ed piece on Sunday, Phil Sheehan did a good job showing how bogus those numbers are. See “18-month library shutdown a major disservice” (Daily Gazette, May 4, 2008) However, even if the 1400 average daily traffic number is accurate (measuring all those who come to the Library, and not just those who use their card), it is an impressive number. Fourteen hundred people is 1% of Schenectady County’s population, which was 144,000 as of 2005. One percent of our population goes to the Central Library every day.

How important is the Central Library to the Schenectady County Public Library system? SCPL has ten branches/locations. Nevertheless, according to the Library’s 2007 Annual Report, last year (using my math and their numbers) the Central Library accounted for:

  • 44% of total circulation to Patrons
  • and 42% of total circulation to other libraries
  • 55% of all Adult library volumes; and 32% of the more widely spread juvenile volumes
  • 71% of all Reference services provided
  • 83% of all Adult Programs offered, and almost 92% of all attendees at adult programs
  • In addition, there were 152,606 visits to the Central Library’s Technology Center in 2007 (averaging over 430 persons per day).

Clearly, as should be obvious even without culling the statistics, the Central Library plays a key role in achieving SCPL’s Mission, which is:

“. . . to satisfy our community’s educational informational, cultural and recreational needs by providing free and open access to a comprehensive range of materials, services and programs.”

As “citizen” Library Trustee John Karl aptly noted in voicing his opposition to the closing: The operation of the Central Library “is the most cost-effective and efficient service in the whole county.” Deciding to close the vital heart (and lungs and brain) of the County’s library system is such a bad idea that even a cynic has a hard time imagining what was going on in the minds of the politicians and bureaucrats responsible for the idea. I’m willing to believe that Library Director Andy Kulmatiski was told “endorse, fight for, and implement the 18-month closing or lose your job.” (Thus, as Upton Sinclair predicted, making it hard for Andy to “understand” the uproar of his staff and the community.) But, for the life of me, I can’t even guess what motives could possibly be behind such lousy policy coming from our County Government.

Despite the failure to reverse similar lame-brained and force-fed schemes concocted by our “leaders” (particularly Susan Savage, the Chair of the County Legislature), I’m hopeful that a combination of political courage (there’s gotta be one Democratic on the Legislature with a little backbone) and public outcry will somehow bring about a far more palatable solution.

In closing, some schadenfreude: This book might make you feel a little better about our plight in Schenectady County: It’s Nancy Alonso’s Closed for Repairs, with 11 short stories about conditions in Castro’s Cuba.

my children
don’t want to stop
historical market

… by Tom Clausen – Upstate Dim Sum (Vol. 2008/1)

Some Upstate Dim Sum might be your best bet for local (haiku) culture, if the Central Library does close (and even if it stays open). UDS is a “biannual anthology of haiku and senryu,” published by the Route 9 Haiku Group, which is comprised of four well-known haiku poets who live in Upstate New York. Two of the members, Hilary Tann and Yu Chang are professors at Union College.

The newest issue of Upstate Dim Sum (Vol. 2008/1) came in the mail this afternoon. Here are three poems each from Yu and from Hilary:

old farmer
his gift to his widow
a blueberry field

choosing a warm spot
to wait for your call

late night ice cream
our cat licks
around the spoon

….. by Hilary Tann – from Upstate Dim Sum (Vol. 2008/1)

end of the storm
sunlight returns
to the kitchen

Indian summer
chocolate kisses
on my cheek

white chopping board
beet greens
in a pool of red

………. by Yu Chang – from Upstate Dim Sum (Vol. 2008/1)

– – Below [click “more” if you are on the f/k/a homepage] you will find links to articles and opinion from the Schenectady Daily and Sunday Gazette, and other source, concerning the closing of the Central Library, along with excerpts from the pieces. —

Library to shut during project: Trustees: Closure will make expansion quicker, cheaper” (Schenectady Daily Gazette, by Kathleen Moore, May 1, 2008)

[Editor’s Note: It appears that only three “citizen members” of the Library Board of Trustees voted against the closing. My Comment to the above article reflected my first reaction to this story, and concluded: “As usual, we seem to have the worst of all worlds as Schenectady citizens: bad policy, bad service, and leaders who lie to us or are totally inept.“]

Library to offer more branch services” (Daily Gazette, by Michael Lamendola, May 2, 2008)

“The Schenectady County Public Library system will expand hours at branches, offer child and adult programming elsewhere and provide off-site Internet access to compensate for the loss of services when the main branch closes for a $7.7 million overhaul this summer, officials said.

“Library Director Andy Kulmatiski said he is working with ‘the county and everyone at how to best serve our patrons’.”

” . . . Currently only the main branch at 99 Clinton St. has Sunday hours.”

[Editor’s Note: SCPL put into effect significant reduction of hours and services at many of its branches in March 2008, while apparently oblivious over the effects of the Central Library’s expansion project.]

Editorial: Library plan: back to the drawing board” (Daily Gazette, May 2, 2008)

“It’s almost impossible to believe that until a few weeks ago, no one involved with the Schenectady County Library expansion project — which has been in the works for years — had the slightest inkling it would require shutting the library down for 18 months during construction.

” . . . While the library system maintains nine satellite branches, there is no way they could come close to picking up the slack. The branches simply don’t have the books and other materials, or the room for the library’s voluminous number of programs. . . .

“Because of its financial situation, the county Legislature had recently been thinking about delaying the project a year. That seems like an excellent idea now, because it would give everyone time to modify the proposal, eliminating the frills and the need for a lengthy closure. . . .”

Plan to close main Schenectady library for 18 months is folly” (Daily Gazette, Letter to the Editor by Eugene A. Rowland, May 4, 2008)

“. . . Of course, there will be temporary interruptions and ‘work-arounds”’— that is normal in any such project. But if a competent architect and a responsible contractor are chosen, these interruptions should be days or weeks in duration — not months. To propose otherwise is simply irresponsible. One has to wonder what “hidden agenda” the county Legislature is pursuing in this matter.

“Serious efforts to expand and modernize the downtown library began more than three years ago. An architectural concept that addressed the library’s needs was presented by the library trustees to the Legislature two years ago. After rejecting this plan, the legislators funded the preparation of a much more expensive plan that involves tearing down the much-used McChesney Room and relocating the library entrance.

“Granted that the county has responsibility for the library, it appears that they have been more concerned with exercising their authority than they have been with continuing and improving the library’s services. They seem to think that the branch libraries (there are nine) can “pick up the slack” for an 18-month period. Anyone who takes a serious look at the problem will conclude that this is not feasible. The branches are too small, too little parking and are not convenient to the downtown area where the central library draws many of its regular patrons. . . . “

Op-ed column: “18-month library shutdown a major disservice” (Daily Gazette, by Phil Sheehan, May 4, 2008)

An open letter to the trustees of the Schenectady County Public Library:

“With all due respect, ladies and gentleman, have you lost your minds? . . .

“Stop and think a moment, something you apparently failed to do earlier, when the current problems might have been avoided, or minimized. We are not talking about a drugstore or a gas station, whose regular customers need travel only an extra block or two for aspirin and oil. We are talking about the public library, the hub of cultural life — and for many people, social life — in the center of the city.

” . . . What happens to the body when you diminish the flow of blood for a year and a half?

“Your answer, according to the article in Thursday’s Gazette, is ‘Don’t worry. Only 10 percent of those 1,400 come from the 12305 ZIP code.’ The implication is that only 140 people a day will be shut out of the library.

” . . . But 140 is a bogus statistic. Unless you have someone checking each patron’s home address . . . So either you count the cards that are used that day, or you count the total number of cards you’ve issued.

“If it’s the cards used that day, you are ignoring everyone who does not use a card, or does not have a card. . . . Or those who — living nearby — use the library as a social center more than a cultural center.

” If the statistic is based on the distribution of all cards, it ignores two more important points:

– Those who live nearby are the ones most likely to visit the main branch.

– Those who come from farther away, who did not go to their nearby branch of the library, did so because there was something in the main branch they could not get at the local branch.

. . . “Allow me a prediction, one which I will be overjoyed to see proven wrong. The project will not be completed in 18 months, and the cost will exceed $7.7 million. The overage on both numbers will be at least 25 percent.

” . . . As I said before, this is not a gas station or a drug store.

“It’s a center of learning, a cultural beacon, a gathering spot for a wide variety of valuable and even necessary activities. It’s a magnet for the center city area.

“You close it at our peril.”

Speak out against plan to close Sch’dy library” (Letter to the Editor, Daily Gazette, by John Karl [Library Trustee], May 6, 2008)

“As a trustee of the library board and a member of the Friends of the Library board, I urge the county to rethink their decision to close the library for reconstruction for up to 18 months. The branches, while numerous, cannot absorb the services and programs provided at the downtown facility. None of the branches has adequate parking. The city branches have no room for programs . . . .

“Our clientele needs the access to computers and the Internet, and to tutors who can help with GED and ESL training in a convenient location. . . . Schenectady can’t close for 18 months, or any similar period, the most cost-effective and efficient service in the whole county.

“I would also urge the public to take back control of this vital service and tell your legislators that they have been grossly mistaken in their underestimation of the people’s attachment to this wonderful gem of a library we have in Schenectady. The question that should be asked is why the county government took over this project and shut off important and constructive input in its development.”

Library closure plan draws fire” (Daily Gazette, by Michael Lamendola, May 6, 2008)

“The Friends of the Schenectady County Public Library are a little less friendly these days toward the Democratic-controlled county Legislature.

“The library support group has launched an effort to prevent the county from closing the central branch of the library for the next 10-12 months as part of a $7.7 million overhaul. Earlier estimates placed the shutdown at 18 months.

“Several members of the volunteer group, which raises money for and provides free help to the library system, attended a presentation on the proposal at Monday night’s committee meeting of the Schenectady County Legislature. They were not allowed to speak; the privilege of the floor is reserved for the regular monthly meeting, to be held May 13.

” . . . The Friends are concerned about the public’s loss of programming and access to free Internet, the closure’s effect on downtown businesses and the way the Legislature pushed the project through without any public discussion.

“One volunteer at Monday night’s meeting said leadership in the county Legislature forced library trustees to accept the latest design, otherwise the county would not pay for the work.

. . . “Friends’ member Fred Thompson said the group distributed 1,000 surveys to people attending its book sale Saturday at the central library. People returned 725, and 710 of the respondents said they did not want to see the library closed. Based on this response, ‘the public is against the closure,”’ Thompson said. . . .


“. . . [L]ibrary trustees took the plan about two years ago to the Democrat-controlled county Legislature, but the Legislature decided to start over. . . .

. . . “The project underwent extensive redesigns over the next two years, the most radical occurring in 2007. That was when a committee consisting of county Legislature Chairwoman Susan Savage, D-Niskayuna, Legislator Vincent DiCerbo, D-Schenectady, and County Manager Kathleen Rooney balked at the building’s exterior design and at plans to add a second entrance from the rear parking lot.

“ ‘They came up with a plan that replaces the present entrance, eliminates the McChesney Room and adds a coffee shop that no one thinks we need,’ [Eugene A.] Rowland said.

” . . . Preservationist group Schenectady Heritage Foundation opposes the demolition of the McChesney Room. It says the library’s current configuration is historically significant architecture that should be preserved. . . .


“The closure could become an election issue if Republicans have anything to do about it. Minority Leader Robert Farley, R-Niskayuna, called the project a “case of poor planning.” He said the county “cannot close this library. I will tell you, ladies and gentlemen, your constituents will have your heads.”

“The potential political fallout of closing the central library could force Democrats to postpone the project for a year or longer, said one Democrat legislator, who did not want to be identified.

[Editor’s Note: My online comment to this article concludes: Let’s hope that some members of the Democratic majority on the County Legislature will actually stand up for common sense and for the people of this County, rather than continue to act like rubber stamps to the little dictator they unanimously chose to keep as their Chair [Susan E. Savage] back in January.]

UPDATES . . . . .

May 7, 2008: The Albany Times Union has its first article on the subject, “Downtown library plan draws fire: $8M project calls for temporary closure of Schenectady main library,” by Paul Nelson (May 7, 2008). It has interesting quotes from patrons, trustees, politicians and nearby business owners. There are also two Letters to the Editor in the Daily Gazette about the Library closing: Nancy Ortner’s is entitled “Closing downtown library seems counterproductive,” and Ruther E. Bergeron’s has the headline “The more you think about it, the worse library plan is.”

May 8, 2008: You’ll find two more letters to the Editor in today’s Daily Gazette: Alan Catlin of Schenectady’s letter is called titled “Library’s wheels will fall off if hub closes;” in addition to the fine hub-spokes analogy, Catlin points out that “At a time when downtown development is being encouraged, the public is being told it can’t use its No. 1 free resource downtown.”

Frank Donegan, a former member of the board of the Mohawk Library Association, wrote “Alternative to library closure must be found,” in which he notes:

“My family walks to the central library and, what with books, DVDs, CDs and periodicals, we check out more than 500 items per year. To think that the branches can fill this function for hundreds and hundreds of patrons like us is simply silly.”

In addition, the Gazette‘s online Letters page for May 8 also includes Philip Adams’ “Closing library: Will benefit outweigh the loss of services?” Adams points out that the “public bad” will outweigh the “public good,” saying:

“I speak from a lifetime of experience when I say that it’s certainly possible to do what needs to be done safely and with a minimum of disruption of services. There is no question that additional costs would be incurred in keeping the library substantially open during construction, but surely there are ways to offset them.”

May 9, 2008: In an online Daily Gazette Letter to the Editor, Linda Spaulding of Pattersonville asks “Why all the secrecy about the Library closing?” The Gazette‘s print edition presents a Letter from David and Patricia Gosda of Niskayuna, “Change Library plan to avoid long closure.”

May 11, 2008: Gloria Kishton (of the Schenectady Heritage Foundation) has a Letter in today’s Sunday Gazette, titled “Library plan misuided for several reasons.” Gloria emphasizes the architectural importance the Library, and the plan’s threat to its integrity. For example, she says:

“Demolishing the popular McChesney Room, known for its excellent acoustics, for another performance space is indefensible and wasteful.

“We don’t need a suburban-style drive-through at our very urban library. A private reading room, cafe and gallery are nice amenities, but can we afford them?”

May 13, 2008: Jane Somers of Delanson spent over 20 years as an administrator with the New York State Library. In “Libraries that stayed open during renovations,” a Letter to the Editor in today’s Gazette, she explains that “To the best of my knowledge, though a great many libraries renovated and constructed additions during those 22 years, not one found it necessary to close for an extended period.” For example:

“On the contrary, Albany, Bethlehem, Buffalo, Canajoharie, Cobleskill and Cohoes are just the beginning of a long list of large and small libraries that — perhaps to the frustration of the contractors — managed to keep their buildings open during such work. The patrons of those libraries would not have settled for less.”

May 14, 2008: Today’s Daily Gazette has a lengthy article reporting on last night’s Meeting of the County Legislature; it’s worth reading in its entirety. “Library backers urge return to 2003 plan: Supporters want to rehabilitate, expand central branch,” by Michael Lamendola, May 14, 2008. Here are highlights:

“Supporters of the public library system want the Schenectady County Legislature to start over with plans to rehabilitate and expand the central branch.

“Almost a dozen Friends of the Schenectady Public Library and library trustees spoke Tuesday night at the Legislature’s regular meeting, urging legislators to go back to a plan library trustees drew up in 2003. . . .

. . . “John Karl, a library trustee and former president of the Friends of the Schenectady Public Library, asked legislators to re-establish a building committee of library trustees, Friends and others. The committee would develop a plan to repair library systems and provide additional space without disrupting services to the public.

“The philosophy has been this is a county project, not a library project. That is crazy,” Karl said.

“County Legislator Joseph Suhrada, R-Rotterdam, said the project got out of hand when the Legislature got involved. “We stuck our noses and tried to take control. It was a great case of meddling,” he said. “We made a huge mistake and should admit it’.”

. . . . “Gardner said County Manager Kathleen Rooney was in constant contact with trustee President Esther Swanker. Swanker concurred.”

. . . “Karl, a Republican, blamed the Democrat-controlled Schenectady County Legislature for the latest setback in a long-running project. “I want to make it clear to the public this plan that has been set aside was not the trustees’, not the Friends’, not the public’s, not the staffs’. It was strictly an initiative by the county Legislature,” he said.”

Although (actually, because) I’m a registered Democrat, I want to specifically concur with Karl’s political assessment. And, to smirk at County Attorney Gardner’s attempt to shift the blame from his blameworthy co-conspirators:

“It is not to cast blame but to have a project that everyone can be happy with. We are re-evaluating it and working through it,” said County Attorney Chris Gardner.

Reporter Lamendola doesn’t mention remarks by any Democratic members of the Legislature. I wouldn’t be at all surprised that none of them had the courage to speak out. If any did, please let me know.

May 15, 2008: Today’s lead editorial at the Daily Gazette is a winner. “County out of touch once again” begins, “It’s hard to read about the flap over the Schenectady County Library makeover plan without thinking of it as yet another case of county legislative leaders trying to fix something that wasn’t broken.” It notes:

SchdyCountySeal “Legislative leaders are behaving like they did last spring, when they suddenly decided the county’s sex-offender law wasn’t strong enough; like they did last fall, when they decided the community college’s music program should be moved from its current campus location to the middle of downtown; like they did last winter, when they decided the head of the county’s Youth Bureau wasn’t getting the job done and had to be replaced (at much higher cost) by someone with less education and experience.

“In none of these cases did leaders bother to consult the people most affected by the changes to see what they thought about them. And in virtually every case, these people were quite unhappy.”

And, it concludes: “The Democrats hold a commanding majority on the county Legislature, but they may not for long if they don’t stop imposing their will on the people of this county so indiscriminately and arrogantly.”

May 22, 2008: Fred Thompson and Eleanor Rowland have a Letter to the Editor in today’s Gazette, with the title “Volunteer efforts saved day for county library.” On behalf of the Friends of the Schenectady Library, Fred and Ellie letter thank “all the [1200] responders to the opinion poll and volunteers in Schenectady County who worked diligently to gather this important information. Their efforts encouraged county legislators to reconsider the design of the expansion and to work cooperatively with library trustees and Friends of the Library.“ And they advise us:

Keep your eye on the prize” — stay informed and speak out for this important enhancement to a library that many in county government describe as “the best service we provide to voters.”

May 23, 2008: See the Daily Gazette article, “Library addition project shelved: Work to involve only heating, electrical systems” (May 23, 2008).  “The systems replacement work will likely result in some short-term closures at the main branch this summer, said board President Esther Swanker.”  Other points include:

  •   “The county and trustees of Schenectady County Library have postponed the long-planned expansion of the main downtown branch in favor of making approximately $1 million in renovations to heating and electrical systems.”
  • “Trustees will make another try at a redesign but did not say when they would come up with a plan.”
  • “They also discussed the creation of an ad hoc committee to explore the creation of a library district with taxing authority. The district would make the library system independent of county control.”  [see the related Sunday Gazette Op/Ed piece by former Library Director Ronald L.  LaGasse, “Library district would take decision-making off county” (May 18, 2008), which includes an online comment by your Editor noting “beyond an automatic skepticism over creating another local government entity — is that the public voting directly on Library budgets will surely mean smaller budgets and rejected budgets.”]
  • “The trustees also announced a committee to design a new building, chaired by Stephen Fitz.”

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