AMHERST – When a technology lab bus from the state library system parked itself at the Amherst Public Library for a week to offer a variety of computer classes, library officials knew they had struck the right nerve.
“We had over 20 classes and they all had waiting lists,” library director Robin Woods said. “We had over 250 people taking classes in Excel, Facebook for adults, genealogy and resume-writing.”
Since the bus visit was a response to community surveys and feedback that told library officials that residents wanted this kind of service and others, Tuesday’s rejection of an $11 million bond issue to finance a 24,000-square-foot addition to the library is more than a bit puzzling.
“Every indication seemed to be pushing us in the right direction,” Woods said. “We would not have gone forward if the support was not there.”
The 1.17-mill, 28-year issue, which would have cost $3 a month for owners of homes valued at $100,000, was defeated by 933 to 809, according to unofficial election results.
The library’s Board of Trustees decided Thursday night it will not put a bond issue back on the May ballot. It had opted for a special election – with a $28,000 price tag – to avoid a crowded ballot.
“A lot of people have been asking if we were going to go right back out again,” Woods said.
Instead, the library will plan another round of community meetings to invite residents to further identify their needs and wants.
“We want to hear from our supporters again, and more importantly, from those who didn’t support us. We need to figure out what they didn’t like … where we went wrong,” Woods said. “We still have an obligation to try and give people what they’ve been asking for.”
The bond issue’s defeat is baffling due to the largely positive feedback officials got in the time leading up to the vote.
“It was disappointing, given that we went in with all that positive feedback and still lost,” Woods said.
Since an expansion realistically is two or more years away, library officials will have to try to develop alternate ways of providing programs and expanded services requested by residents in surveys and meetings.
“It may not be convenient or ideal, and if we have to go off-site to do it, we will,” she said.
The expansion would have more than doubled the library’s size to 38,000-plus square feet. The lack of available space in the existing 14,000-square-foot building makes certain services, like as a computer training lab, difficult to provide.
“We have one community room and if we tried turning that into a training lab, we’d have no other space for programs and meetings,” Woods said.
The library currently has 12 computers for patrons. “If we tried to use those (for classes), that would take them away from other patrons,” Woods said.
The value of a computer lab is greater than ever, especially in the current recession.
“When people are laid off and require computer skills to find jobs, the library should be the first place they can go to get some of those basic skills for free,” she said.