By Debbie Gardner
HAMPDEN "We would like to thank all of you for your support over the past year. By keeping the Library's presence in the public eye, you made this day happen."
So said Kathleen Hutchison, Chair of the Hampden Board of Library Trustees, as she addressed the crowd of Library Friends, former book swap supporter, State and local dignitaries and other well-wishers who eagerly awaited the re-opening of the Hampden Free Public Library on July 1.
The trio of lanky young men -- clad in blue "what's buzzin at your library" tee shirts -- who had hurried to fill one side of the Town Hall lawn with chairs just before the appointed hour needn't have worried that their efforts were wasted.
By 9 a.m. every seat was filled and an overflow crowd milled on the lawn, awaiting the moment when the yellow ribbon would be severed and members of the Ouaboag Highlanders Pipes & Drums would lead the way into the recently cleaned, refurbished and reorganized Library.
"We were devastated when the library closed ... it boggles the mind [that this could have happened]," said Marge Wright, as she and her eight-year-old granddaughter, Christine Felphmer, took front-row seats to await the ribbon-cutting. "We're very pleased that we've opened the library again."
As Hutchison officially kicked off the reopening ceremonies, she took a moment to recognize the many members of the Friends of the Hampden Free Public Library -- especially president Patty Ehlers, vice-president Jean Hall and fund-raising director Tanya Orr -- who worked tirelessly for the past year to keep the town focused on the library issue.
"Their energy and ideas have greatly contributed to this day," she said.
But it was John Arnold, chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, one of the quartet of state dignitaries who shared the steps with Hutchison, who best summed up the importance of the work the Friends had done, and the commitment the Town had made to its future by voting to fund the library for fiscal year 2007.
"It's a pleasure to be with you at the reopening of what is an institution of America -- which is the free public library" said Arnold, adding that by reinvesting in the library, Hampden was helping to ensure the future success of its children and young people. "From large cities to small towns, the fabric of the library connects us all ... allowing us to fulfill our life's ambitions and our life's works."
"Everyone in the surrounding communities was very saddened when [Hampden's] library closed," said State Representative Gale Candaras when she took her turn at the microphone. Behind Candaras, bags and bags of books lined the building.
"We were able to reach out to Barnes & Noble, Edward's Books, the Palmer Public Library, the East Longmeadow Public Library and the Wilbraham Public Library. They have all pulled together and donated new best sellers to the library," she said.
Candaras explained that the donations were to help "fill the holes" in the library's collection, a result of a year in which there were no book purchases.
"Let this never happen again," Candaras continued, referring to the failure of the town to fund the library's budget for fiscal year 2006, resulting in its closure. " [State Representative] Mary [Rogeness] and I will do everything that is in our power to make sure this will never happen again."
Earlier in the program, Rogeness had complimented the work of the Friends in keeping the spirit of the library alive in Hampden, and had presented a Proclamation from the State Legislature commemorating the library's reopening.
"The year of work ... the community spirit ... I hope it will continue in the future," she said.
When his turn came, John Ramsay, administrator for the Western Massachusetts Regional Library system, talked about recent upgrades to the library, and the return of state library services to the town.
"Just this week our technical person was out here setting up the computers to ensure you have upgraded Internet access," he said. "and our bookmobile is coming back to bring more books [to the town] as part of the summer reading program."
Hutchison then introduced the library staff -- Carol Scheier, who will be the new director, former homework center librarian Christina Fairman, who is returning to take over the position of youth services librarian, Cindy Rowley, also returning as manager technical services and Marissa Garbecki, returning as library page -- before she turned the proceedings over to Hampden Library Trustee Beth Burger, who read from two letters: one from Sen. Edward Kennedy, and another from an 11-year-old Hampden girl who had raised $228 for the library by making and raffling off two quilts.
"President [John F.] Kennedy believed that the community public library is one of the richest reservoirs of our history," Berger quoted from Sen. Kennedy's letter.
New Library Trustee and former Friends Co-President Cynthia Bailey then read a proclamation declaring the library open, fourth-grader and library volunteer Gisele Andree cut the ribbon and the crowd followed the pipers into the building.
The Library's future
As attendees applied for new CWMARS library cards and checked out the library's new art gallery, Reminder Publications talked with John Arnold, chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners about the status of the Hampden Free Public Library, and what it would take to ensure the return of all library services.
"Just to get the funding was the most important step," he said.
Arnold added that other key elements in ensuring Hampden Library's return to full certification within the state's library system include: the level of education of the director; the hours the library is open; the percentage of the budget spent on materials -- meaning books and periodicals, databases and such; and its agreement to be part of the reciprocal borrowing system of Massachusetts public libraries.
All of these elements need to be maintained for a full year -- and renewed by the Library board of Commissioners -- before Hampden's library will be considered for full certification, he said.
According to Dianne Carty, head of state aid and data coordination for the the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, Hampden is ineligible for state grant money in fiscal year 2007 because there has been a break in its service.
" When we measure compliance [with certification], we look at what the library actually did for the past fiscal year," she said. "Because the library was closed, they do not meet the hours requirement, nor did they spend on materials."
She said the town's commitment to reopen the library for FY2007 will put it in compliance for the FY 2008 funding cycle.
"This will allow Hampden to apply for a state grant award from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, and also petition for other federal aide that the Board administers," she explained.