Kennett Public Library needs the community’s support
● By Steven Hoffman
The year was 1998.
Bill Clinton was President of the United States. People flocked to movie theaters to watch “Titanic.” Some folks were feeling jittery about the arrival of Y2K and what it would mean for their computers. And the library in Kennett Square purchased a 5.3-acre property on a Waywood Road site in Kennett Township. The plan was to build a new 37,900 square-foot library with plenty of functional space for programming and activities, modern amenities, and ample parking.
Fast-forward 17 years and the library's home is still the small, aging building on State Street where the library has been located since 1962 . Just last month, the library closed for renovations that included the remediation of asbestos.
There are many reasons why the library doesn’t have a new state-of-the-art facility today, and none of them have anything to do with a lack of effort on the part of the people who have volunteered to serve on its board of trustees. Many fine people have done their best to serve the library through the years, and the absence of a new home should not be seen as an indictment for any person or group of people.
There have been a number of significant hurdles to clear in the effort to the library a new home.
In 1998, there was strong opposition to the library’s proposed move to a site outside Kennett Square’s borough limits. Then, at approximately the same time that the library launched a capital campaign to raise money for the new building project, there was an economic recession that made it impossible to raise the necessary funding.
Library officials never abandoned the effort to find a long-term solution, but the momentum for the project was certainly lost for many years. Another recession took hold in 2007 and 2008, again thwarting any attempts at a large-scale fundraising campaign. There were on-again, off-again efforts to find a possible site in Kennett Square Borough for the library, including one that would have seen the library partnering with the borough, the YMCA, and Anson B. Nixon Park on a big project that would have transformed the western gateway to town. As recently as 2010, library officials looked at as many as 20 different sites in the Kennett Square area before deciding last year that the Waywood Road site was still the best home for the future library.
The announcement that the library was going to move forward with a project on the Waywood Road site seemed at the time to be a declaration that there was once again momentum for a project.
But the behind-the-scenes turmoil that resulted in the recent resignations of four members of the board could be indicative of a problem that will sink the library’s future plans.
The library board hasn’t demonstrated the ability to rally support from the community it serves, and without that support it’s difficult to imagine how a capital campaign will be successful.
Because of the recent resignations, the library board has vacancies, and the board is desperately in need of a few leaders in the community to step forward and help rebuild the relationships between the board and the community.
At the recent public information meeting, Susan Mackey-Kallis, the library board president, and Geoff Birkett, the vice president, were very open about the need for community support, going as far as to acknowledge that they would consider reversing the decision about building a new library on the Waywood Road site. Even the recent name change—from Bayard Taylor Memorial Library to Kennett Public Library—could be undone. It’s hard to fault library board members for being open-minded about these things. But at this point, 17 years after the library purchased more than five of acres of expensive real estate, the board needs a direction and it needs to make continual progress in that direction. Mackey-Kallis and Birkett emphasized at the recent public meeting that another ten years can’t pass without action.
Library director Donna Murray and the staff do an excellent job of making the library a valued resource for the community, despite the limitations of the building it is located in. But Kennett Square needs a new library with more functional space and convenient parking, and the library board needs a few men and women who can lead this effort.