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Location: Plattsburgh, New York, United States

Writog: writer-photographer.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Will Anyone Be Reading This At A Public Library In The Year 2112?


PLATTSBURGH CITY – Wed., 4/25/12

What is the future of public libraries?

That was the question posed to the two candidates in the running for the director’s position at the Plattsburgh Public Library. When the candidates responded, the Cat in the Hat was looking over their shoulders.

The upstairs auditorium wasn’t available for the presentations – the recent Friends of the Library book sale hadn’t been taken down yet – so the candidates had to face the public in the children’s room located in the library basement.

From a photographic perspective this presented a challenge. While trying to visually document the events, this writog had to work around cut-outs of Dr. Seuss characters cavorting on the wall behind the speakers. Nearby, colorful cartoon dinosaurs paraded on the side of a bookshelf. Such is the situation sometimes with a small city library. Fortunately I found an adult-sized seat, avoiding the uncomfortable utilization of a kid-scaled wooden chair.

Each candidate had a separate public forum, the first on Monday, the second the next day.

First up was Colleen Pelletier who has worked at PPL for 22 years. Despite the unusual setting and the fact she was recovering from the flu, Colleen was able to make her presentation, talking about how libraries are changing for the future. As a reference librarian Colleen has seen the impact of computers and the Internet on how people access information. She stressed there is still a need for libraries to help people sort out the good info from the bad on the Net.



Candidate Colleen Pelletier speaks during a public forum 
about the future of public libraries.


Q&A followed her presentation and a blogger (ahem) in the audience mentioned that he couldn’t help but notice a certain object upstairs when entering the building.  It was a familiar sight: a waste paper basket serving as a bucket to catch once again water dripping from the ceiling.  (At least there was only one, not ten or more lined up to deal with a major leak.)

Colleen replied that she suspected the problem might be caused by the elevator shaft brickwork on the roof needing repair work.  She noted the leaks seemed to be the worse during nor’easter storms, so the water might be coming down through the shaft after being driven between the bricks.  She would have the brickwork repointed, sealing up the mortar, to see if that was the reason for the problem.

Hovering over Colleen’s head on the back wall was a bright yellow banner proclaiming Reading is Fun! And while that can be true, it’s also a fact that PPL has weathered through some un-fun times, especially at the end of last year when four staff positions were on the chopping block.

On Tuesday afternoon Paul Schaffer took to the podium. Apparently he didn’t find the forum’s setting distracting after working as a library director in a much smaller community.  He was professionally attired, a subdued suit-and-tie combination that must have made the Cat in the Hat insanely jealous.



Candidate Paul Schaffer shares his experiences 
as director of the Massena Public Library.


Paul talked about how he dealt with a tight budget while at the Massena Public Library. After retiring from that position in May last year, he decided that he was still interested in dealing with the challenges of running a public library.

During the Q&A a blogger (ahem) mentioned the chronic leaks that PPL has been dealing with for over a decade. Paul said he had a leak problem also with the library building in Massena. The first attempt to fix the problem didn’t work and the town was hesitant to spend any more money. But he convinced town officials that a different type of roof had to be installed, a permanent fix instead of taking stopgap measures.

I asked Paul for his take on changing PPL to a special district tax institution as a way to deal with shrinking governmental support. He replied that might work but there was also the option of becoming a school district library. The process to changing to that status, he added, wouldn’t take as long as the one for the special tax district.

Someone else asked Paul if he had dealt with unionized employees while serving as a library director. The question was obviously in reference to the PPL budget crisis last year and the controversy that arose with the Board of Trustees simply deciding to cut jobs instead of finding other alternatives. The positions were saved but through the efforts of city councilor Tim Carpenter, the library staff and its union.

Paul replied that the Massena Public Library wasn’t unionized during his directorship but he was aware of the issues regarding PPL staff and the library’s budget through online sources.

With the public forums completed, it’s now up to the PPL Board of Trustees to make a choice. The library still faces some serious issues besides the impact of game-changing technologies such as e-books and it’s important that the right person takes over. Director Stan Ransom retires next month and maybe a replacement will be picked before then.

After each presentation I spoke with other listeners get their reactions.

Unfortunately neither Thing 1 nor Thing 2 was available for comment.

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