Guildhall Rejects Library Funding Measure

03/04/09 8:55AM By Charlotte Albright
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Charlotte Albright

(Host) Hugging the New Hampshire border in the northeast kingdom, Guildhall's welcome sign proclaims it  "the only town in the world so-named."  Visitors passing through this hamlet slow down to admire the marigold yellow library, a fine example of neo-Georgian architecture.

But the library is rarely open, and won't open its financial books, and that made it a hot button issue at last night's town meeting. VPR's Charlotte Albright was there.

(Albright) Guildhall's handsome historic landmark was built in 1900 by Everett C. Benton, a native son who made it big in insurance in Boston.  The benefactor even supplied all the books, and for most of the last century, the library was a vibrant gathering spot for this tiny town.  These days-not so much.

(Library chatter)

(Albright) Now, the library is only open three hours each week. On a recent Monday afternoon, a handful of 4H clubbers were learning to sew under the watchful eye of librarian Valerie Foy.  They had to step around piles of books in plastic bags on the floor in a dusty, disheveled interior. 

Charlotte Albright
A mosaic in the library foyer
Like many town libraries in Vermont, Guildhall's is a private institution, but it accepts tax dollars to support its budget. Selectmen say there's no accountability for how the money is spent. They want the library's doors to be open at least 14 hours a week. So they've offered to double the annual town appropriation from $5,000 to $10,000 is the library board agrees - and if it makes its financial decisions public.

Librarian Foy won't comment on whether voters should approve the selectmen's recommendation. But Foy does think the library board, not  selectmen, should steer its future, and she says the priority right now is on renovation, not circulation.

(Foy) We're hoping to be open more as the work continues, they need to paint and there's other things, they're looking to buy new bookshelves, we're trying to catalog the books and get the library cleaned and ready to meet minimum state standards, is the final goal.

(Albright) The Library board has countered the selectmen's town meeting article with its own proposal, to accept the usual $5000 yearly allocation with no strings attached.

Charlotte Albright
Benefactor, Everett C. Benton, who donated the library and books in 1900
Ed Clark, the select board vice-chair who lives next door to the landmark, says that makes no sense. Why, he wonders, would  a library board turn down $5000 in order to stay, for the most part, closed to the public, and secretive about its finances? 

(Clark) The board has been the board for a long time and the easiest thing in the world is to do nothing; the second easiest thing to do is come up with a bunch of reasons why you don't want to do anything."

(sounds of town meeting)

(Albright) The long contentious debate at last night's town meeting swirled around whether, in a cash-strapped high-tech world, keeping an old fashioned library open for about 14 hours a week is worth ten thousand tax dollars a year. The answer, on 37 out of 60 secret ballots, was no.

For VPR News, I'm Charlotte Albright, in Guildhall.

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