At the February 28 work session on closing the Clark Memorial Library, Councilman Richard Dehnert asked, if the library goes, “What’s next? What’s left?” Extremely apt questions.
Since at least 1946, as evidenced by due dates in Southwest Collection books, Clarkdale has offered residents their own lending library. At some point, it resided in the reading room adjacent to the Men’s Lounge of the Clubhouse. Then it moved into the old infirmary and jail that still houses the Clarkdale Historical Society. And in 1992, the Town purchased the Methodist Church, originally the Clarkdale Community Church, as a permanent home for our venerable community resource.
For the next 18 years, all was well with this particularly wise decision on the part of town officials. Not only did they preserve a historic building in good repair, they continued Clarkdale’s tradition of promoting literacy through free access to printed materials and encouraging the community values of personal freedom, individual initiative, and egalitarianism that universal access to information makes possible.
Even in 2010, right when the entire nation was suffering the worst of the recent recession, Clarkdale’s administrators and community volunteers stood tall. Town staff worked together to obtain a matching Arizona State grant, federal stimulus funds through Yavapai County Library District, and financial aid from the Yavapai Apache Nation. Along with matching funds from donations raised over many years by Clark Memorial Library volunteers -- plus a lot of time and elbow grease donated by both town staff and community volunteers, Clarkdalians managed to replace the roof, renovate the interior, add disability-friendly features, and install Wi Fi access and new computers. You go, team! A worldwide recession couldn’t stop our library.
However, in December of 2010, Clarkdale’s long-time librarian retired. And as far as I can ascertain (digging through town minutes & budgets, listening to the last work session over and over, schmoozing with library & administrative staff and long-time residents), no effort was made to replace this pivotal Department Manager. None!
There was no search for someone with the education and/or experience to manage a library … to research, build, and maintain a collection geared to our residents and our history … to develop, fund, and implement library programs that address the needs of our community … to guide dedicated library volunteers toward the most productive use of their time … and to fight for the library’s annual budget and donation fund. Nor were there any further attempts to obtain library assistance grants to help fund a librarian (if that’s the problem), buy specialized materials, or develop relevant programs.
Why not? What I heard at the work session and have been told since all boils down to “Well, we don’t have a librarian or anyone to do such things for the library.” Yet everyone I’ve heard agrees that without a librarian (or library manager as it says on the flow chart) a library is just a book and AV materials depot, doomed to become increasingly irrelevant to the community it’s intended to serve.
And this is exactly what’s happened over the last six years. Currently, devoting half their workday to the Library (plus attendance at library-related meetings, preparing reports, and incidental tasks), the Community Services Supervisor, Dawn Norman, and a Town Administrative Assistant, Joni Westcott, helped out by two volunteers with experience preparing and shelving materials, have been doing a yeoman’s job keeping the doors open at least four hours a day, five days a week. But they have Community Services work they must attend.
Basic programs such as children’s story-times and teen summer reading fests have fallen off to none. There’s been little or no coordination with the CJSD librarian, much less Mingus, Yavapai College, and various civic groups. The library’s browsing, ready-to-read-in-the-library-and-check-out collection seems to have declined, especially non-fiction and children’s books. And over the years, Clarkdalians who need library resources and specialized assistance or specific programs have hopped into their cars to hit other libraries. Not environmentally or community friendly, but what are you gonna do if your library doesn’t have what you need?
It’s this that has given rise to the claim that an average of 417 walk-in patrons per month means Clarkdale residents don’t need or want Clark Memorial Library anywhere near as much as they want more incidental events in the park.
Shades of the Clarkdale pool: another Clarkdale community asset that -- as Councilman Dehnert sorely recalls -- $60,000 in hard-raised community donations couldn’t save. Only worse. A municipal library represents a physical asset … and a community resource …and the soul of a small town.
Not only that, from the budgets, I can’t see how closing the library will save the Town any cash. The current overall budget given at the work session is $77,000. Of that, $36,000 comes from the Yavapai County Library Network (and will go if Clark Memorial Library closes). That leaves $41,000. The two Clarkdale employees will simply resume their Community Services duties fulltime. The combined library portion of their salaries, FICA, health insurance, workman’s comp, and state retirement can’t be less than $47,000. Where’s the monetary savings? Why forfeit all chance of increasing circulation and, thereby, increase Library Network funding? Why toss potential library grants, endowments, and donations out the window? Why downgrade the image Clarkdale investors have been trying to build, thus hobbling both real-estate sales and economic development? Why simply discard the decades of effort some of our community’s valuable volunteers have bestowed on their library?
The impression I took away from the 2/28/17 Town Council work session was of a mixed Council: two Councilmen opposed, the other two and the Mayor reluctant -- arguing for modern technology and cents over sensibility, but from data that seemed incomplete, biased, or simply inapplicable.
Consequently, your Town Council needs to hear from you, if only your personal preference: Keep the Library, or Dump the Library. If you’ve suggestions for how to keep it, that would be more helpful. And believe me, a question will be answered.
Email is best: Kathy.Bainbridge@clarkdale.az.gov, addressed to Clarkdale Town Council. If you don’t have Internet access, you can find it at Clark Memorial Library, in the civic center next to the clubhouse, 39 North Ninth Street.