“[If] we do nothing, I guarantee you the library will be nonexistent in five years.”
By Ben Parra
[Full Disclosure: Ben Parra works as a part-time cataloger at the Easthampton Library]
EASTHAMPTON — On Wednesday January 11th, the Emily Williston Library Board presented a proposal at the Easthampton City Council Finance Committee that would create a more sustainable relationship between the library and the city.
The presentation by board member Chuck McCullagh outlined the library’s financial predicament, and laid out a plan for ensuring the library’s future viability and growth. The most pressing issue facing the library is its budget. The library operates as a private non-profit, with funding primarily split between the city and the library’s endowment.
Under the current city contract, the budget is running at a precarious deficit, and the library will be forced to draw heavily from its endowment over the next several years to maintain operations. In 2021, the library received $216,466 in municipal funding, covering only 49% of the library’s operating budget. The average level of municipal funding for libraries in Massachusetts is 86.3%.
Furthermore, per the existing financial model, the library cannot address other pressing needs, including building maintenance, staff salaries and benefits, and programming.
As McCullagh noted, the current trend is unsustainable: “we do nothing, I can guarantee you that the library will be nonexistent in five years… it’s just a financial reality. We just cannot operate the way it is right now.”
Under the board’s proposal, the city would increase its funding for the library over several years to be more closely aligned with state averages. In tandem with increased city funding, the library would create a position for a full-time fundraiser, to help support the library’s annual budget, increase capital gifts, and grow its endowment.
McCullagh also noted the limitations and financial liability of the current library facility. The historic building is costly to repair, has limited parking, and ADA requirements cannot be adequately addressed. As part of the Board’s proposal, the library would relocate to the building at 52 Main Street, formerly occupied by Bank of America and currently owned by Easthampton Savings Bank.
ESB is considering donating the building to the library, pending an appropriate increase in city funding. This building is centrally-located, with sufficient parking, and would be much cheaper to renovate and maintain. It would also provide more room for programming and community spaces, which the current facility lacks.
Both Mayor Nicole LaChapelle and City Council Finance Committee Chair Daniel Rist spoke at the meeting, expressing their support for the library but also voicing concern over the political viability of the board’s proposal. Councilor Daniel Rist, of District 5, repeatedly noted that the multi-year project outlined by the board would need to garner City Council and mayoral support across multiple annual budget votes. In response, McCullagh and Library Director Katya Schapiro, as well as other board members present, reiterated the library’s commitment to meeting the city’s contribution with increased fundraising and endowment allocation, emphasizing a spirit of collaboration. Others present at the meeting spoke about the library’s importance to the community, and its aspirations for greater accessibility and increased programming.
The Easthampton City Council meets in full on January 18th at 6:00pm, during which the council will discuss the board’s report and hear public comment. The meeting can be attended in person, on the second floor of the Easthampton Municipal Building at 50 Payson Ave, or remotely through the City Council website.
Ben Parra is a librarian living in Easthampton.
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