I Publius: Libraries are good for the soul

Mason Public Library, Great Barrington

Mason Public Library, Great Barrington

I love libraries. I grew up in libraries and owe a great deal to libraries and librarians. Along with many librarians, I believe that libraries should be community centers. They should provide space for people of all ages — but especially young people — to come and study or use computers.

Above all, they should be available to people who work or go to school during the day. In other words, libraries should be organized to suit the needs of the populations who need them the most. For those of us who read books, there should be books. For those who can’t afford books, there should be libraries. For those who wouldn’t know a book when they saw one, libraries should introduce young people to old style “information technology” in addition to providing computers and research skills to our young people.

Great Barrington spent a ton of money on its beautiful Mason Library. Unfortunately, despite the good intentions of the library trustees and the citizens who voted the money to fund the project, the library still has unfinished business. It should extend its hours and has to do better in its acquisitions policy. It should be open every night for students. If you only open late one or two nights, people won’t get used to it. If you spend millions to fix it up and then don’t provide enough staff for it to stay open, you have missed the point.

Now there is yet another brouhaha starting up. The town of Great Barrington is comprised of two parts: one part Great Barrington, one part Housatonic. The smaller part, Housatonic, is often to the larger part as vermouth is to gin in a martini.

There has always been an expectation on the part of the Hoosies that they would get their fair share. It’s a lot like Manhattan and “upstate” New York (defined as everything north of the Bronx). The Hoosies believe that their library, the Ramsdell Library, has been treated as the country cousin. Now the good people of Housatonic (GPOH) who have been known to vote as a bloc, are ticked off. Their library needs help and they take great exception to those who think that they ought to get to Great Barrington proper to use a library. The Hoosies are right. Libraries should be in neighborhoods. Just ask Andrew Carnegie, or his ghost, who built a lot of libraries.

In true democratic fashion, the good people of Housatonic are having a sort of informational meeting on April 28 at the Housatonic Fire House at 7 p.m. They want to hear from their selectmen so that they can have the first public exchange before the town election, slated for May 11. I read that sentence to mean, “Woe be to any select person or town manager who doesn’t take our demands about the preservation of the Ramsdell Library seriously.”

They want a handicapped accessible building that has been properly weatherized. They want to “green” the building. They point to a $2 million commitment from the town. They’ve got state Rep. Smitty Pignatelli helping them, and they are hoping to relieve taxpayers of their tremendous burden by applying for federal stimulus money. They are also collecting lots of signatures on lots of petition sheets.

One of the leading figures in the fight to preserve Ramsdell, Deb Guhl, makes the point that, “There are several board members making statements that there is no intent to shut down the library. I think this is a misleading statement.”

I may live in Great Barrington, but I believe in libraries and I believe in the people of Housatonic. I remember the late and great honorary mayor of Housatonic, Alice Bubriski, who was a champion of the library. We should fight this fight in her memory. Hey, I hope that the Ramsdell Library can figure out a way to serve its members as well, or a lot better, than the Mason.

On another subject, there is a call for cameras to catch speeders in Great Barrington. No matter where you live in Berkshire County, you probably get there, at least some of the time, through Barrington.

Apparently, some miscreants have been rushing the light that is so long, people can conceive and deliver babies there. I say, make the light change quicker.

Our Great Barrington taxes are approaching draconian levels. The more people we hire in our burgeoning bureaucracy, the more rules we make to keep them busy. And, to quote Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Originally Published in the Berkshire Eagle, 4/25/09

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