You may have read on-line or seen on television a story about a proposal to construct a memorial to Seekonk’s veterans and how it is being blocked by the Board of Library Trustees. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once observed, “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” There is a divergence of opinion on this issue, but these are the facts. As library users and advocates for its services, I thought that you would find these facts useful.
The Veterans’ Memorial Committee wishes to build a large permanent memorial on the Seekonk Meadows. This is the passive recreation area adjacent to the library. The Board of Selectmen granted permission to build a memorial on the property in front of Town Hall. There is already an approved site for this memorial. It is just not the preferred location of the Memorial Committee.
Instead, the Memorial Committee wishes to use a space along Newman Avenue adjacent to the library parking lot. This site is sometimes used as overflow parking when there are large events on the Meadows. The loss of overflow parking is not a major issue for the Library Trustees. They recognize that this space is only needed a few times a year. A spokesman for the Memorial Committee would have you believe that this is the principal reason for the Trustees’ opposition to the memorial as currently proposed. This is a red herring that is being used make the Trustees appear to be totally unreasonable.
The Trustees believe that the veterans of Seekonk are deserving of a special memorial. The Trustees’ primary responsibility, however, is to consider the town’s current and future library service needs. The Trustees have shown themselves to be open-minded and willing to discuss proposals put forth by the Memorial Committee. They have tried to find a reasonable way to balance the competing demands for library service and a way to honor the veterans. The Trustees have taken the time to carefully review the schematic drawings for the proposed veterans’ memorial. The Library Trustees invited members of the Memorial Committee to make a presentation at their regular monthly meeting. After that presentation, the Trustees spent the better part of two meetings considering the proposal. Their decision not to support construction of the proposed memorial was deliberate and thoughtful.
The Board of Trustees had several concerns about the impact of the memorial on the Meadows and the library. Chief among these concerns is the strict limitation that the memorial would put on the ability of the library to expand in the future. This was ultimately the deciding factor in the Trustees’ decision not to support the memorial plan presented to them. The capping of the landfill has limited the amount of land that can support a building to a narrow strip along Newman Avenue. Construction of the memorial as currently proposed along Newman Avenue would effectively prevent any future expansion of the library on this site.
The Trustees shared these concerns in an email written to Don Kinneburgh, chairman of the Memorial Committee. The Trustees have offered to consider alternative proposals, and they have invited the Memorial Committee to consider modifications in the design that would accommodate the library’s needs as well as their own. To date, the Memorial Committee has not responded to the Library Trustees’ invitation. The leadership of the Memorial Committee has apparently chosen instead to wage a media campaign against the library.
Part of this campaign appears to be to disparage the value of the library and the desires of those who wish to see this library expand and improve services. Use of the library continues to grow and evolve with your needs. I anticipate that this will be the case well into the future. Expanding the Seekonk Public Library is a real need. The Trustees, staff, and the library’s Strategic Planning Committee have all reached the same conclusion. The library building not only needs a major rehabilitation but additional space should be added if the library is to provide the services required by the people of Seekonk over the next twenty-five years. The Trustees will be studying this possibility in earnest later this year. The new long-range plan for the library has two specific strategic objectives related to building this space. The first of these objectives is to apply to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners for a planning grant. These grant applications will be due in September 2013. The grant will be used to prepare a facilities plan based on the library’s current and anticipated program of service, to conduct a site investigation and if need be, a site selection, to prepare an assessment of the structure, and to develop construction cost estimates. Assuming that the library receives this grant, we will be starting a comprehensive study of how to best address the library’s facility needs this winter. It is imperative at this point in the process to keep all of the building options available for consideration. I am sure that many options will come to light during the facility study, and I am sure that you would want the best option to be ultimately selected. If the Trustees were to allow the construction of the veterans’ memorial as currently proposed, they may also be eliminating the best choice before the study begins. The Trustees do not believe that this is in the best interest of either the library using public or taxpayers.
Another red herring is the issue of who controls the library. The Trustees have been portrayed as having a proprietary attitude to the Meadows and thwarting the will of the public owners of the property. The Meadows is town property, and it belongs to all of the people of Seekonk. As is the case with the library building, Seekonk Meadows has been entrusted to the care and management of the town’s elected Board of Library Trustees. The Board was assigned administrative responsibility for the Meadows by a unanimous vote of Town Meeting in 2010. Under Massachusetts law, library boards are afforded a good deal of autonomy. The governance of public libraries is somewhat analogous to that of public schools. This is due in part to an understanding that libraries can only serve all of us effectively when they are insulated from political manipulation and pressures of special interest groups. This independence helps libraries be responsive and accountable to the entire community. Until proven otherwise, I choose to think that as popularly elected officials, the Library Trustees reflect the majority viewpoint in our community. Their only agenda is to fulfill the responsibilities for which they were elected to the best of their ability.
I have worked with dozens of Boards of Trustees in my thirty-one years of library service. This group of Trustees is exceptional. They are reasonable, thoughtful people who take their responsibilities seriously. They are dedicated to providing library service to the people of Seekonk, and on many occasions, they have demonstrated a willingness to put the larger interests of the town first. They are above all forward thinking and believe in planning for the long-term. They deserve our support.
Please share this information with your friends and neighbors. I welcome your questions and suggestions. Please email me or call me at the library, 508-336-8230, extension 101, and thank you for your on-going patronage and all of your past support.
Peter Fuller, Library Director