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Meet the candidates for Library Board of Trustees

Cary Browse  •  Gail Coolidge  •  Billy Salter

Cary Browse

Still River Road

What do you see as the library’s primary mission? Where and how do you think the library could extend its mission?

Cary Browse. (Photo by Lisa Aciukewicz)

Last year I served on the library’s 2019-2023 Strategic Plan Committee. As part of our process we examined the library’s mission and brainstormed new directions. It was exciting to create a plan for the future for this wonderful institution. I believe that focusing library resources on personal and intellectual growth is essential. Creative use of space and staff to promote a welcoming, safe place to explore available resources would be the next area of concentration. I look forward to working with Mary Wilson and her staff to figure out how to make the mission work with new parameters.

Given it may be some months before high-risk people feel safe going to the library, how can the library make resources available to these people?

For the foreseeable future, [keeping] library basic services available is the important focus. The online resources and virtual storytelling are very successful. Figuring out safe lending and returning procedures can be managed after materials that have been out for the quarantine are returned. Some possible new programs that specifically address current health concerns might include: outreach by phone to those without computer access; Zoom reference consultations to help those working from home; printing services for those who don’t have printers at home (with curbside pickup); or sharing the library’s Zoom account with residents for their own use.

Next year’s budget promises to be challenging. If the Select Board seeks cuts from the library, how should the library trustees respond?

The cycles of budget cuts are not new to libraries. Working with Mary and her staff to determine how to best maintain essential services will certainly be an important discussion. Will there be a different service model going forward? Can volunteers provide more assistance? Can some subscriptions to periodicals be canceled? Do we need to look into cutting hours again? I believe all options are worth exploring.

Optional: Anything further you would like to say?

My family and I have lived in Harvard for 32 years and have been strong library supporters. With a master’s degree in library science from Simmons, I have years of experience in public and corporate libraries, as well as work in library automation. I served as a co-chair of the public fundraising campaign for Harvard’s new library. My job at Town Hall gave me insight into the way this town functions. This background and experience will be invaluable as a library trustee. I have the enthusiasm and time to commit to this position.

Mary Abigail (Gail) Coolidge

Bolton Road

What do you see as the library’s primary mission? Where and how do you think the library could extend its mission?

Gail Coolidge. (Photo by Lisa Aciukewicz)

Since I moved to Harvard nearly 30 years ago, I have understood the library as a defining feature of our community, as both an educational and a social resource. The library is a space—physical and now virtual as well—for encouraging personal and intellectual growth and fulfilling the needs of the community. As a patron and current library trustee, I have used the library in many capacities and have seen firsthand its value to every age group. It is a dynamic place for quiet study, socializing, education, concerts, and talks. That central mission—encouraging personal and intellectual growth and responding to the needs of the community—doesn’t change, but the means do: Content delivery must evolve in response to evolving needs.

We have a five-year strategic planning process, involving townspeople, staff, and trustees, to understand the needs of the community and to define the library’s responses to those needs. For example, as more people work from home and require an occasional meeting place, we are reallocating library space to provide it. As a trustee with three terms’ experience, I know that the library’s mission is realized by the director and staff and that the trustees’ primary role is to empower them. I have been instrumental in redistributing decision-making powers and responsibilities about library operations from the trustees to the director. To that end, I have facilitated streamlining the trustees’ procedures and instituting standard voting practices to make us a more effective board. I am excited to continue collaborating with patrons, staff, and trustees to ensure that the library remains a resource that responds to the people, no matter the circumstances.

Given it may be some months before high-risk people feel safe going to the library, how can the library make resources available to these people?

The pandemic has accelerated an already rapid move to digital resources. Our library, and the wider library world, have already done a magnificent job of moving many resources online. Libraries have reduced barriers to entry by making library materials more accessible and putting in-person programs online. I believe the services developed during the pandemic will continue to flourish and grow—they are proving to be valuable and convenient in and of themselves, and even once-reluctant patrons have mastered the technology. By the time readers see this, a system will be safely providing traditional library services: curbside pickup and delivery, a quarantine process for materials before recirculation, and sanitation practices to keep both staff and patrons safe. This is a first step on a measured and thoughtful path to full reopening, designed and implemented by the library’s director, Mary Wilson, in accordance with state guidelines. As we move into the first phase of reopening this summer, it is important that we continue to offer services to patrons who enjoy not only our books but also our programs and events. We will continue to run remote activities online in creative ways; our summer reading program, for example, will take place online, with the children’s librarian already making virtual visits to Hildreth Elementary School classes.

Next year’s budget promises to be challenging. If the Select Board seeks cuts from the library, how should the library trustees respond?

Budget crunches usually mean shortened hours of operation to reduce staff costs. The challenge will be for the trustees to empower the director and staff to find innovative ways of delivering the same quality of service during reduced hours and to support the staff under straitened circumstances. The move to eResources and online program offerings alleviates much of that strain. The library also serves as a central meeting place to attend programs and share ideas, and the trustees need to work to make sure that this important function is maintained.

Optional: Anything further you would like to say?

I am proud to have played a key role in resolving the differing needs and expectations of students coming to the library after school and of other patrons seeking a quiet space. We developed a code of conduct for the students, instituted check-in procedures, and developed targeted programs for them; the result is more young people using the library in effective ways in harmony with other patrons. In several years of checking students in, I have observed firsthand and become well acquainted with the patrons (both students and adults), the librarians, and the myriad details of the day-to-day operations of the library. I also led the landscaping project, which has added a wonderful outdoor gathering space to the library. During my three terms as library trustee, including two stints as chair, it has been an honor to collaborate with the library’s staff to help the library grow with and for our community.

Billy Salter

Elm Street

What do you see as the library’s primary mission? Where and how do you think the library could extend its mission?

Billy Salter. (Courtesy photo)

The Harvard Public Library is our most broad-based community institution. It serves all ages, toddlers to seniors; it provides resources for entertainment and amusement, information, homework and language learning, professional development and job-seeking, exploration and serendipitous discovery, even quiet contemplation. It executes its mission using a wide range of media, from good old-fashioned books to DVDs and downloadable movies, books, and audio books, to 3D printers and museum passes. During normal times, the physical library is open 50 hours per week, with its electronic resources accessible 24/7. Its mission does not need to be extended, but the library can continue to innovate in how it pursues and achieves it. I think the Harvard Public Library can broaden its programs by developing a speaker series and discussion groups about specific topics of interest to patrons and offering more activities that involve different age groups interacting with each other. For example, a series called “How we …,” where townspeople—from elementary school and high school kids through long-time AARP members—talk together about how they used to, say, play with their friends, do homework, have family dinner, go on vacation, and the like. This will generate personal stories illustrating both the vast changes and the enduring continuities across generations and help to bring people together.

Given it may be some months before high-risk people feel safe going to the library, how can the library make resources available to these people?

Planning is already underway for curbside pickup and possible reconfiguration of furniture to facilitate physical distancing. In addition, the library could consider holding special hours for seniors and other high-risk groups, where the number of visitors is significantly limited. And, during the nice weather, some activities could be moved outside.

Next year’s budget promises to be challenging. If the Select Board seeks cuts from the library, how should the library trustees respond?

The library consumes about 2.4% of the town budget. According to about 400 responses to a survey conducted in 2018 to prepare the Harvard Public Library’s 2019-2023 Strategic Plan: 78% of residents have library cards; there were over 250,000 transactions between residents and the library in 2018; 94% of survey respondents reported that library staff were extremely or very helpful, and 95% were extremely or very satisfied with the library, three-quarters in both cases checking “extremely.” The library therefore gives very good value for money and should resist efforts to cut its budget. That said, there may be places to save some money, like carefully prioritizing technology expenditures. For example, the audiovisual system in Volunteers Hall must be improved to support presentations, but the desktops used by patrons are still functional and do not need upgrading.

Optional: Anything further you would like to say?

The library is probably the best functioning institution in town. I want to be on its board to help keep it that way, but also, candidly, to make sure that males (who, surprisingly, are 58% of town residents, according to the most recent data) are represented on the board; I would be the only one if elected. I would bring decades of experience in high tech research and development and in social policy analysis, both of which are grounded in my expertise in data analysis and an analytical approach to problem solving. I think I’m good at clarifying issues and focusing on what’s important to understand, as I try to do at town meetings.

In these troubling times, we need to strengthen what brings us together, to find common ground, to encounter new ideas, and to disagree through dialogue. The library does that, and must continue to do so going forward.

—Edited for style and clarity by Carlene Phillips

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