Democracy in action? On the town/community level? It's a good thing, but it can get ugly...
While I'm nestled in on the hillside in Scotland, lots of things have been going on in my hometown back in Massachusetts. The latest one is a very big, community-dividing debate about whether or not to approve funding for a new library.
We're a small town amidst other small towns, population under 3,000. Not big, and we have a tiny library to serve us. Thing is, the library gets used a lot by the community. It's packed full of books and cds and dvds, making use of every bit of space. It's an old building, with no running water, and no place to sit inside. They made the improvement of a composting toilet a few years back, but that hardly makes the building a comfortable space to hang out in.
So there's been a lot of support for building a new library. The town applied for - and got - a grant worth something like 2.1 million. The folks in the town need to come up with another 1.4 million, that would be paid for through... taxes. Oh my. For that, we'd get a much bigger, modern facility that would include all sorts of space inside for events, meetings, classes, as well as just tables to actually sit at and read! It would be great. I'd be in there everyday.
It had seemed like things were going forward smoothly, but in a late round of voting (there have been a number of votes throughout the grant process) a majority of NO voters emerged. They mobilized at the last minute, and caught the YES voters off guard. The YES folks argued that there should be a revote because the NO folks had campaigned with a lot of misinformation - and there hadn't been time to respond to that before the last vote. After a very fractious meeting, the council that decides such things voted to allow the revote. Since then, both sides have been on a full-out campaign to win the Jan 10th vote.
Here's an article about it.
It's been tense. I'm an ocean away, but I feel the tension. I'm also, of course, a huge supporter. I want this library, and believe it will be a great addition to our community - a progressive one that looks to the future and creates prosperity for us. Many people have rallied with donations to the new library fund and by making pledges of donations over the long term. But the vote is going to be close.
If you have any interest in donating a few dollars to this effort at community library building you could do so here
. Every dollar helps. You could consider it an investment in helping me write my future books - since the new library will be a big part of writing them!
I recently wrote a letter of support that's posted on the YES for Library!
website. Here's what I wrote:
I’m an ocean away from Shutesbury
right now. My family and I are living in Scotland this year, spending time
reconnecting with Gudrun’s homeland. It’s great, but we miss our home on Old
Egypt Road. We watched with concern as you guys faced the hurricane, and also
when that crazy Halloween storm came through. Now we find ourselves worrying
about the debate over the new library. We support it with all our hearts, and
it troubles us deeply to learn that it’s in jeopardy.
Over here, we get asked a lot
about the place we call home - especially as people know that for a while we’d
been intending to make our move to Scotland permanent. Considering all the
places that we could (and have) lived, what makes us so sure Shutesbury is the
place for us? We provide them lots of reasons. There are many things to love
about life in Shutesbury, but one that comes up every time is… You guessed it -
the library! Whether it’s here in Scotland, or in California or in Colorado or
any of the many places we’ve spent time in during the last few years, nothing
reminds me more acutely of how special our home is than stepping into what
passes for libraries in other places. I find direct parallels between a region’s
quality of life and the quality of their libraries.
If I’m honest, though, when I
praise “our” library I’m really praising the area’s libraries collectively. I’m
combining what Spear offers with what’s offered by Leverett and Wendell,
Amherst and even Sunderland. I use all of those libraries often, but only
because they offer the space and facilities that the Spear Library doesn’t. I’d
much rather be spending my library time in a similar facility in Shutesbury.
(I’d do a lot less driving, too!)
We are rather heavy library
users, I’ll admit. I’m a novelist. Gudrun’s a knitwear designer. We both work
from home, and for a number of years our kids were homeschooled. For us, the
library is an integral part of our lives. I’ve been thinking a lot about what
it would be like to be someone that wasn’t a big library user, or even just
someone that’s satisfied with the way things are now. Should they be asked to
chip in for something they’re not going to use, or don’t feel is necessary?
Perhaps not, but I don’t think
that question really gets at the heart of this situation. The new library would
offer so many things for all of us. Many people that don’t currently frequent
Spear would do so in the new one. People that like Spear well enough would find
myriad things to love about the new library. New things. More people than ever
could use the facility, and they could use it on their own terms, for the
things that are important to them.
How would you use the new
public spaces? What things will the library offer that will save you
money? What programs would you want to see created? What clubs or groups
interest you - and need an awesome facility to come to life? What
courses do you want to take close to home, or which ones would you
teach? The new library provides an incredible opportunity to offer whatever it
is that you want it to. You can demand that it provides services
that make it relevant for your life. By doing so you’ll help make it a place
for all of us.
Personally, I would love to be
able to offer writing courses, especially ones for teens. I’ve published six
novels and taught at various universities and writing seminars, but something
about teaching within my own community has a special allure to it. I can also
imagine hosting visiting writers in the new library. The Odyssey is a great
bookshop, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to have some authors come to us every
now and then? They would if we asked, and if we provided the space to make it
possible. Gudrun - knitwear designer extraordinaire that she is - can envision
teaching knitting-related courses. She gets invited to teach everywhere from
Maine to New York, Iceland to Scotland to Italy; why not gather with people and
talk knitting right on home turf?
Variations on all of these things
are possible without the new library, but there’s something about the right
space that makes things happen, that serves to concentrate energy and shape
notions into realities. There’s something about the space being ours that
brings it to life in a more vibrant way. That’s what I think this library could
do for us. The gains we can all get from it can far outweigh any costs.
Think of the possibilities! Get
excited about them! Though we’re an ocean away, that’s exactly what we’ve been
doing as we dream of returning to Shutesbury and as we envision the future
prosperity of the town.
-David Anthony Durham