“Are Libraries Obsolete?,” Phil Keith asks in the 4/13/17 Press Edition

Referencing the two failed Hampton Bays Library bond referendums,  Phil Keith points out that “only about 10 percent of the registered voters in Hampton Bays bothered to  vote on the latest bond proposal, and barely 13 percent voted last June.”  Then he asks a great question:  “Does this mean that the vast majority of voters in Hampton Bays (a) don’t care about libraries, (b) aren’t that concerned about the tax impact of the potential bond issue, or, (c) both?”

Tapping 27east.com–“the best news website in New York State in 2016, according to the New York Press Association”–Mr. Keith read the many comments posted under the recent Hampton Bays bond articles.  He noted three main concerns–taxes, library governance, and library programs offered–and a “subtle” fourth concern questioning if libraries are even needed.

Mr. Keith says, “I do agree that the public should have some say in who sits on the board governing any and all community libraries.  Publicly elected boards, are, in fact, more common than appointed or volunteer boards.”  Yes!!  Further affirmation of our mission!

Mr. Keith’s view is that libraries aren’t obsolete, and offer more than just books.  I agree.  But I also feel the tax burden needs to be carefully considered, as does the plan for each library’s future.

Interestingly, his editorial highlights three libraries that he feels offer stellar experiences for patrons.  I’d like to comment on their governing boards:

Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton: In 1996 their new building bond referendum failed and taxpayers wanted representation with their taxation.  After a long community battle, the Rogers Memorial Library self-appointed trustees voted to change their bylaws to allow for democratic elections of library trustees, abandoning the private, closed, like-minded club mentality of self-appointed library boards.  Visit 27east.com’s Newspaper Archives in 1996 to learn about the history and process.

Quogue Library:  Still maintains a self-appointed, unelected board of trustees.  Only 6 of 19 Suffolk County association libraries cling to this outdated, though legal, governing structure.  Quogue Library is a small library, unlike Westhampton, Hampton Bays, or Rogers Memorial libraries.

East Hampton Library:  Also still has self-appointed trustees.  However, the East Hampton Library has 22 trustees, much more than other Suffolk County association libraries.  These individuals donate and fundraise for their library–much like the wealthy benefactors who founded our association libraries in the late 1800s and early 1900s–enough that the local present day taxpayers hardly pay anything to use their library.  The great bulk of the Westhampton Free Library’s operating revenue, for example, is from individual taxpayers.

Taxation without representation is undemocratic and un-American.  We can’t answer the question as to why people don’t vote in local elections.  That’s another important issue. And I do agree with Mr. Keith, libraries are not obsolete and the public should be allowed to vote for library trustees.

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