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LTE – Lisa Bragg-Hurlburt – 7-9-2014

To the Editor:

Colfax has been given a valuable gift that provides our community with an opportunity for growth–Dairy State Bank has offered to donate land for building a new public library. The village board will soon vote on whether or not to accept this offer, and the library board is prepared to vote in July. The land is within village limits (next to Dairy State Bank), so not far from its current downtown location. But there will be room for a parking lot and other modernizing improvements.

 As a part-time librarian at the Colfax Public Library, I hope the village votes to accept this generous offer. As much as we love the homey feel of our current library, and while its location in our municipal building has worked well these 97 years, there are problems with keeping the library in its current location. I see these problems daily when I work at the library. Our patrons range in age from the very young to the elderly, and both ends of the age spectrum are challenged by our building.

For the elderly and handicapped, accessibility is the main issue. While a wheelchair ramp was added to the back entrance of the municipal building, people with walkers tend to avoid it because it is extremely long. Another problem is that the small landing on top of the ramp is precariously open on one end (for stairs). While the stairs are nice for able-bodied people entering the building, they pose a hazard for those with wheelchairs or walkers. Once at the top of the small ramp patrons still need to back up and pull the door open. Once through the door, there are a couple of tight corners to negotiate before reaching a long expanse of hall. Most people with mobility issues seem to opt to climb their way up the stairs at the front of the building. We don’t see them enter but it is nerve-wracking to watch them leave with heavy bags of books. It’s only a matter of time before someone has a serious fall.

On the other side of the age spectrum, parents with young children also struggle to reach us safely. We do not have a parking lot, so the only places to park are the limited spaces along the street in front of the library. Main Street has quite a bit of traffic, so walking from car to library with kids in tow can be stressful. We have forty+ kids signed up for our summer reading program (and they usually come with parents), but our current library only has safe capacity for 36 people. While larger gatherings can be held outside in the gazebo area next door, there is a lot of traffic noise and the safety concern of keeping children away from the road.

Nowadays libraries are community hubs for meeting and connection. Our library isn’t really set up to function that way. We do not have the space to offer areas for private study, community meetings, speakers, or activity groups, as most modern libraries do. If we have a speaker now, the gathering has to either be held outside (again, the noisy truck traffic), upstairs in the theatre (with no handicap access or up-to-code fire escape), or in our small children’s area (which severely limits the size of the gathering and then prevents children from getting at the books).

While we have some “regulars” who come in to use our computers, wi-fi connection, printer, or copy machine, we also have people come in on a more sporadic basis, when times are tough and they need extra help. Maybe they need to file an unemployment claim, print out a tax form, or pay a bill electronically. Maybe they need to access their bank account or fill out a job application.  They are welcome here, but unfortunately our computer users have very little privacy. Due to our space constraints, people sit elbow to elbow with other computer users.

For the book lovers among us (and there are many) a spacious new library would also allow us to grow our book collections.

In these hard economic times, the potential cost of a new building needs to be given serious consideration. But with a well-run fund raising and grant-writing campaign, cost would be relatively minimal to the village.  This is an investment that would provide a long-term return for the entire community. An improved library, like a good school, is a community asset that will draw more people in and will help Colfax shine in its next 150 years.

Please let our village board know that you would like them to vote “yes” to accepting Dairy State Bank’s gift. It fits in with the long-range goals the library has already established. And the “old” library space need not be wasted; it could continue serving the community as meeting space or additional room for village government.

Lisa Bragg-Hurlburt