A Father's Journal / Twists and turns of the Pequot Library story
Published 7:31 am, Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Let me start by saying that I am extremely biased, supportive and otherwise inclined toward the Pequot Library. I am not an impartial observer. I have been a volunteer there for 20 years.
I can remember exactly where I sat in the children's room when my daughter Caroline turned over the last page and, beaming triumphantly, announced that she had finished her first book. The book was "The Fat Cat Sat on the Hat."
The book plot held no great twists. Spoiler alert: The hat goes splat. The recent funding debacle for the Pequot Library has had many a plot twist.
I will give you a synopsis of the Pequot story.
Just over a decade later, Virginia Marquand Monroe built what the neighbors thought was a stone barn behind her house in Southport. She then demolished her house, revealed that the "barn" was a library and donated it to the community.
So Fairfield had a library in the center and another in the west end.
In the 1930s, the people on the east side of town wanted a library, too, but a cry went out from the population already served by libraries: "Just use the other ones."
But the east side folks are serious, and the Stratfield PTA starts a public library at the Stratfield School. An alliance with private libraries and the town is struck to serve the east, west, and center of town.
In 1950, the town jumped into the library business and took over what now is the main library. In 1956, the town opened a branch at one end of the Andrew Warde High School's library, and then in 1969 the town built and opened the Fairfield Woods branch to serve the east side.
Everybody had a library. Everyone was happy.
The Pequot remains in the hands of the Pequot Library Association, but for as long as anybody can remember, it has received a grant from the town covering one-third of its operating costs.
As taxpayers, we have three libraries. One of them we get for 30 cents on the dollar, with no maintenance or expansion costs. If the Pequot's roof leaks, the library association has to pass the hat.
Taxpayers cover nearly the full price for the main and Fairfield Woods branches, and they are nice libraries. This should be the part when we close the book and triumphantly say, "And everyone lives happily ever after." But we have some recent plot developments.
Over the years the Pequot Library has become interwoven into the library system. You can check out materials at any of the three, and they share the same computer system. The Fairfield Library website has this on the bottom of one page that deals with their shared online catalog:
Fairfield and Pequot Libraries: Your gateway to the world of information and discovery.
But dark clouds appear on the horizon. Someone wants to close the gateway.
Taxes in Fairfield over the last 14 years have gone up at twice the rate of inflation. Some taxpayers get justifiably angry and have put pressure on the politicians. Politicians say, "We can't do anything, our hands are tied. It's contractual obligations and rising health care costs. Also, Fairfield Woods Library needs a new roof."
Then the politicians looked at one line item in the budget. "Hey," they said to themselves, "we will just cut the Pequot Library's funding completely, 100 percent de-fund them. It does not involve complicated contractual or insurance issues. It's easy, and as an added bonus, many of the taxpayers who are complaining are Fat Cats from that side of town, and it will send a message to them. The message is stop complaining or we will cut you again."
In an unprecedented move, the Board of Finance cut every single penny.
The Pequot Library said, "We can't stay open if you take all of our money. We must close." The politicians said, "Just use one of the other libraries or fundraise harder."
The Pequot already raises 70 per cent of its budget itself. The board voted not to de-fund any other programs, just the library.
Now the people on the west side of town -- just like the east side people in the 1930s -- are mobilizing, with help from many others in town who realize that budgets have to be cut, but not all of it has to fall on the 20-year-old Pequot Library.
Sympathetic taxpayers from all sides of town plan to rally on Saturday, April 20, at 1:30 p.m. on the Pequot's front lawn. That lawn is where Virginia Marquand Monroe's house stood before she tore it down.
I don't know how this story will end, but I would like to someday sit in the children's section of the Pequot Library and hear my grandchild read his or her first book.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Wednesday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org