Change reigns at embattled Kennett Library

Amid steps to address community concerns, including a major bylaw change, the Kennett Library board got a sobering reminder at Tuesday night’s meeting that turbulence from the past continues to plague efforts to move forward.

Changes continue to occur at the Kennett Library, formerly known as the Bayard Taylor Library.

In an effort to quell mistrust, the board of the Kennett Library, formerly known as the Bayard Taylor Library, continues to implement changes.

Summarizing a recent feasibility study aimed at assessing the climate for a capital campaign, Bonny Anderson of MacIntyre Associates did not mince words: “Based on these conclusions, we do not recommend proceeding with a capital campaign now.”

Anderson said the study featured a series of questions designed to elicit feedback from potential donors about their view of the library’s expansion plans and their willingness to contribute. Typically when positive responses average 70 percent or more, the climate is deemed favorable, Anderson said.

Most supporters concur that the library has outgrown its space in the 200 block of East State Street in Kennett Square and needs to relocate; more than a decade ago, the library board purchased property on Ways Lane in Kennett Township in anticipation of a move there.

But plans to leave the borough proved unpopular, and the present board is working on a proposal to acquire the Weinstein property at the intersection of East State and South Willow Streets, as well as nearby parking. The library serves residents in the Borough of Kennett Square and seven townships: East Marlborough, Kennett, Newlin, New Garden, Pennsbury, Pocopson, and West Marlborough.

Anderson said among the 41 people who agreed to be interviewed about the library – 28 others failed to respond and 12 declined to participate – the percentages ranged from 49 to 14 percent, with one exception. “Do not despair,” Anderson said, highlighting the report’s bright spot: The project’s importance to the future of the library scored 76 percent.

Anderson said the fact that inadequate support exists for a capital campaign right now does not doom the effort; it just delays it. She said the board has already acted on many of the recommendations contained in the 37-page report the study generated.

One of the prevailing concerns expressed by those interviewed involved the board’s lack of accountability and “closed shop” persona, said Anderson. She advised the board to embrace the possibility of working with a task force. “They can turn into natural allies if you handle it well,” she said.

The Kennett Library Task Force, an idea initially broached by Kennett Square Mayor Matt Fetick, generated dissent later in the meeting. Board President Susan Mackey-Kallis and Douglas Thompson both said they felt a task force would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, but fellow board members Bill McLachlan, Jeff Yetter, and Carolyn Mohr said they agreed with Anderson on its value.

Mohr said Anderson’s report shows that the board has a huge image problem. “I see them [task force] as a bridge between public perception and what the board’s accomplished,” she said.

Thompson said he feared it would create confusion and hassles. “This seems like an opportunity for people to tell us what to do without taking responsibility,” he said.

Collis Townsend, a former library board member from Kennett Township, identified himself as a task force member, as did Sara Leff, also from Kennett Township.

Townsend described the task force as being “in its formative stage,” and he said community members, some of whom are valuable potential donors, are seeking reassurance that the board is representing them. “You have a huge credibility problem,” he said.

Leff agreed, explaining that unfortunately “the grapevine paints you with a broad brush.” She said having a secondary group of people interested in changing that perception would benefit everyone.

She also pointed out that the feasibility report should boost that effort. “You guys won’t be heading down blind alleys,” she noted, adding that community issues and needs have been identified.

Mackey-Kallis said she believed any residents interested in serving on the task force would help the library more by joining one of its committees. “I think we are moving forward and garnering goodwill,” she said.

But Yetter, a board member from Kennett Township, disagreed. He said he has heard criticism about the board’s current leadership.

Earlier in the meeting, the board unanimously passed a revision to the bylaws that allows for each of the eight municipalities served by the library to appoint one library board representative, regardless of their funding allocation. In the past, the representatives were chosen by the library board and municipalities were eligible for a representative if they imposed a dedicated tax, as Kennett and East Marlborough did, or contributed funds based on a “fair share” calculation.

Under the revision, municipalities can receive up to two representatives: One will now be automatic, and the other will depend on whether the municipality meets the fair-share formula, which is based on factors such as the number of library card users, said Susan Mackey-Kallis .

Mackey-Kallis said the change could result in as many as six additions to the 12-member library board. She said the borough, Pocopson, New Garden, West Marlborough, Pennsbury and Newlin townships could appoint members. However, some already have at-large representatives and may just opt to turn them into township representatives rather than add a new member, Mackey-Kallis said.

In other business, the board received an update from Maureen Snook, the library’s development director, who said appeals for contributions went out last month to 1,062 stakeholders. To date, the library has received about $7,000 from 51 donors, she said. “We’re tracking a little bit behind last year, but not too badly,” she added.

Following up on a suggestion from Bill McLachlan, a board member from Kennett Township, the board voted to make the feasibility study available for viewing at the library once the names of potential donors have been redacted. It also voted to make Karen Ammon, a board member from Newlin Township, its vice president.

Ammon said she hoped the board would support the Kennett Lions Fright Feast, an annual Halloween-themed event that benefits the library as well as Camp Dreamcatcher, a Kennett-based program for children impacted by AIDS. It will take place on Saturday, Oct. 24, from 6:30 to 10 p.m. at Northbrook Marketplace, 1805 Unionville-Wawaset Rd., West Chester.

Library Director Donna Murray said a link for purchasing tickets will soon be added to the library’s website. She also regretfully reported that Teresa Sanchez, a library assistant and invaluable member of the team since 2002, is moving. Murray said Sanchez started working at the library after participating in its adult literacy program. The board agreed to send Sanchez a card thanking her for her service.

The board welcomed its newest member, Stanley Allen from East Marlborough Township. Allen said he was eager to share a passion for libraries that began when he was growing up in Indiana. “I want other children to have that same experience,” he said, adding that his 80-year-old mother still asks him regularly about what he’s reading.

The next library board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 20 at 7 p.m.

 

 

 

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