Trustees Open House - MacKay Branch

On Wednesday, May 5th, 2010, the Board of Trustees of the Chelmsford Public Library held an "Open House" style meeting at the MacKay Branch Library. More than 70 patrons of the Library were in attendance, representing a broad cross-section of library users and neighbors.

Representing the Board were Trustees Maggie Marshall, David Braslau, Lisa Daigle and Carol Sneden. Also in attendance was Matt Hanson, one of the newest Chelmsford Selectman and a vocal supporter of both the MacKay and Adams Libraries during his campaign. At the request of the Trustees, Matt joined the Trustees to answer patron questions.


The Trustees began the meeting by explaining how the Library is funded:

  • Only a portion of the Library funding comes from the Town Budget (approx $1.5M in 2010). This budget covers the operations of both Adams and MacKay. Of this total, MacKay represents approximately $59,000 - 4% of the budget for 6.6% of the circulation - clearly a cost-effective operation.

  • The Town funding primarily covers payroll and operating costs; there is no money in the budget for programs and activities. Additionally, in the past 3 years there have been significant cuts in building maintenance and technology. The library computers are presently funded from State Aid as long as funds are available.

  • The Friends of the Library fund nearly every Library program, as well as the popular museum pass program; their funds come from membership dues and a very successful annual Book Sale. In total, the friends provide more than $30K per year in funding to the Library.

  • The Library charges no fees or overdue book fines - any such monies would need to be returned to the Town treasurer rather than retained by the Library. A "conscience jar" that accepts donations to the Friends of the Library in lieu of fines collects several hundred dollars each month in donations.

  • The Library receives State Aid through the Board of Library Commissioners. In order to qualify for State Aid, the Library must meet a number of criteria, including minimum operating hours, a book budget threshold, and must not receive a disproportionate budget reduction compared to other Town departments. For 2010, the Library failed to meet these qualifications but was successful in receiving a waiver from the Board of Library Commissioners - this means that we will still receive State Aid. This is critical - if we were to lose State Aid, in addition to a deeper budget crisis, Library patrons would no longer be able to borrow books from other libraries.

  • The Trustees administer a modest portfolio of trust funds, many dating to the early 1900's. These funds are the result of bequests from grateful Library patrons; most have restrictions that limit how they can be used.

The Library Budget for FY2011 was just approved by Town Meeting. We are pleased to report that the approved budget is a level-service budget. This means that the Library actually received a very small increase in funding to cover the required salary step increases and to cover the increase in benefits cost. This also means that there are no plans for a further reduction in Library hours or services at either the main Library or MacKay Branch.

At this funding level we will again need to apply for a waiver in order to qualify for State Aid. Unfortunately, this also means that there is no funding available to restore MacKay hours at least through the end of the next fiscal year.


Other factors influencing staffing and operating hours of the MacKay Branch:

  • The Library Staff is unionized. This imposes certain constraints on how the Library staffing levels are determined and how the work shifts are structured.

  • Although the Library has a large number of very active volunteers (more than 200, contributing over 5000 hours per year), volunteer hours cannot be used to substitute for hours that could be performed by paid staff. In addition, the nature of volunteer work is transitory, and we can't rely on volunteers the way we do paid staff. Also, the work that is done at the Library is specialized and requires education and training that would be difficult to implement on a volunteer scale.

  • The building was generously donated the building and grounds to the Town by the MacKay family, but it was a conditional bequest. One condition is that the building remain in continuous use as a Library - if we were to close the MacKay Branch, the building and grounds would need to be returned to the MacKay heirs and would no longer be available to the Library if funding were to be restored at some future point.


The Trustees remain committed to keeping the MacKay Branch open.

Although current MacKay hours are limited to only two days per week, we are hopeful that hours could eventually be restored as the Town's fiscal health improves over the next several years. A further reminder of the Trustees commitment to MacKay is the more than $40K renovation that we funded just 1-1/2 years ago that dramatically improved the functionality and aesthetics of the Branch.

An interesting note: despite the reduction in operating hours, Library use and circulation is up. We attribute this increased use to belt tightening by our patrons: using Library computer access (even from the parking lot when the Library is closed, we discovered), borrowing books and DVDs instead of renting or buying them, and attending no-cost Library programs.


Summary of questions from patrons in attendance

Patrons asked if private fundraising would be possible. The Trustees noted that there are already three very effective ways to make donations to benefit the Library:

  • Join the Friends of the Library - this is 501(c)3 non-profit organization and donor contributions are tax deductible. Membership information is available on the Friends webpage, a link to which is found on the Library website. At the monthly Friends meeting shortly after the Open House, the Friends agreed to consider a "MacKay Interest Group" to focus specifically on issues associated with the MacKay Branch, provided there is sufficient participation (the Friends meet monthly on the first Thursday of the month at 7:30 PM at the Adams Library).

  • Naming Opportunities - Commemorative naming opportunities exist at both libraries, and are recognized through permanently affixed plaques. These can be found on seating areas, bookshelves, meeting rooms, etc. Opportunities are available at many different donation levels.

  • Bequests can be made to the Board of Library Trustees. The residents of Chelmsford have a generous history of charitable donations to the Library. Most of these bequests contain restrictions on the use of funds, assuring that they are used only for the designated purpose.

Patrons asked if they could raise funds specifically to increase the operating hours at MacKay. The Trustees indicated that this may not be possible, as salary and benefits are paid from the Town Budget and not from funds controlled by the Trustees. The patrons asked the Trustees to investigate this further and, if it is possible, to help establish a fund-raising target as a challenge to the MacKay patrons. The Trustees noted that sufficient funds would need to be raised to ensure long-term funding - it would not be practical to raise funds to add operating hours on an intermittent basis.

Matt Hanson also asked that the Trustees, in concert with the Library Director, identify a level of funding that would be needed from the Town to restore Library services, and specifically hours at MacKay. He committed to then exploring funding options with the Selectman should funds become available during the year. The Trustees agreed to assemble this information.

One idea raised during the discussion was whether it would be possible to raise money for the Library through a tax bill insert - in a similar way to the insert for the Public Schools Arts & Technology Fund. The Trustees agreed to look into this option to determine if it is viable.

After the Open House, Paul Cohen, town manager, supplied this information: "The state approves the form of municipal property tax bills. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 60, Section 3C allows a town, by town meeting vote, to add a place on the property tax bill for a town scholarship fund. Section 3D of Chapter 60 allows for a similar solicitation for an elderly and disabled taxation fund. Without a similar authorization from the state legislature, the Town cannot undertake a solicitation for the library. The Library Trustees and/or the Friends could contact the Town's state legislators to advance such legislation."

The Trustees closed the meeting after more than an hour with a commitment to provide a follow-up in the form of a written "talking points" document that will also provide specific contact information for the Friends of the Library and for other charitable giving opportunities.


Opportunities for more feedback

The Trustees also indicated that they plan to hold an Open House style meeting at the Adams Library to collect similar feedback from those patrons. This meeting has been scheduled for June 16th from 7-8 PM.

Also, as always, don't hesitate to contact Becky Herrmann, Library Director, to let us know your thoughts and concerns.