Book and reading Center board considering library charter or sharing services amid uncertain viability

ARKPORT — Story hour and easy access to best-selling novels are about to reach a new chapter in Arkport due to changes in the way New York state classifies and funds book centers.

Trustees of The Arkport Reading/Book Center are investigating options to become a chartered library so it can be a recognized member of the region’s cooperative library group, the Southern Tier Library System (STLS).

Trustees made that statement Monday, following an Oct. 17 meeting with Brian M. Hildreth, executive director of STLS, to discuss the options available to the Arkport community. The Spectator contacted board members following that meeting to learn the content and scope of the matter.

One major impetus for the chartering discussion is concern about the book and reading center’s future if nothing changes, trustees said.

“The reading center is in jeopardy of losing services from the library system, such as sharing of library materials from 47 other community libraries, and closing its doors indefinitely if a charter cannot be obtained,” trustees said.

According to reading center board members, starting in 2021, only chartered public libraries in the state will have access to state library system resources.

“It’s not imminently important, but by the end of 2020 it’s very important because New York state will not allow reading centers to exist anymore,” said Terry Pullman, a member of the reading center’s board. “If they (do exist), they can’t be…supported by the public library system, and the public library system is where the bulk of our book loans come from. There is no way that a small community like Arkport could bring in the number of new books in a given month or a year that people want to read.”

In addition to Pullman, board members include Carol Burns, secretary; Patty Amidon project coordinator; and Mark Wagner, Joanne Bisson and Linda Parente. In the statement, the board laid out the benefits and challenges in obtaining a charter and becoming a library.

“The major barrier to becoming a chartered library is funding,” they said. “The reading center must meet minimum standards set by the Board of Regents and Commissioner of Education in order to operate as a true chartered public library. Current funding levels and facility constraints prevent the reading center from meeting such requirements.”

The board said, “The change of status from reading center to public library would allow for enhanced services including an increase in new materials such as books, movies, audiobooks, music and magazines, accessible hours, programs like book discussions, lectures, concerts and children’s entertainment, public computers with broadband connectivity and facility improvements.

Additional benefits would include access to aid from New York state. At the moment the reading center only receives funds through the Village of Arkport. As a chartered library, the reading center would receive a small stipend from the state for operations, but also have access to New York State Public Library Construction Aid, which could net hundreds of thousands of dollars for building needs.

The Arkport Book Center provides popular services in the village. The Story Time and Summer Reading programs involve scores of Arkport children. According to the reading center’s September report to the Arkport Village Board, 387 books were checked out during the month, including 62 interlibrary books from the Southern Tier Library System. There were 68 visitors, 130 children from Lisa’s Daycare served, and the computer available to the public was used for about five hours.

Transitioning to a full-fledged library would require a substantial commitment, Pullman acknowledged.

“We would have a charter. We would jump through the hoops such as how qualified your staff needs to be, how many hours you are open, how many square feet you have, what you’re providing your library for your patrons,” Pullman detailed. “We would have to make some significant upgrades in many categories.”

The village Reading Center Board will be spending time in the coming months looking at various options for retaining services for the community, members said. One consideration is changing how the reading center receives funds. It is possible to move funding support from the village — which is a smaller tax base — to a school district funding model that allows for broader tax support.

Officials say that model would be similar to the Essential Club Free Library in Canaseraga, which presently receives funds through the residents of the Canaseraga Central School District. This model is also how most libraries are funded throughout the Southern Tier. The Essential Club Free Library is a chartered public library and currently meets New York state library minimum standards, according to STLS.

If school district residents in both Canaseraga and Arkport approve merging the districts in a Nov. 13 vote, Arkport-Canaseraga Central School will be created on July 1, 2019.

Board members of the Arkport Reading Center said they hope to meet with trustees of Canaseraga’s library to see how this funding model works, and ways the library and reading center can partner on sharing and improving services for their communities.

That conversation has not happened yet.

“The third possibility is to find some way to survive as a public library without jumping through those hoops, and we haven’t had a conversation with anyone yet. They’re researching it for us at Southern Tier,” Pullman said. “We’re going to talk to the people in Canaseraga, and ask them, ‘Do you think we can do what you do? Do you think we can somehow combine but still provide local service?’”

About the process going forward, Pullman said, “We’re still at the learning stage. I wouldn’t say that I know any of those solutions as being the one that’s for us.”

The “worst thing,” according to Pullman, would be the elimination of all library services in Arkport.

It’s an option board members appear to be trying to avert.

“The concern of Arkport Reading Center Board of Trustees right now is losing an important community resource that is unlikely to return if lost,” trustees cautioned. “It is important the reading center is maintained for current and future residents. Arkport deserves a public library.”