Some of the Forest Park Public Library’s more frustrated patrons clearly came to last week’s meeting on the state of the library with a heavy load to get off their chests.
From pot-luck holiday parties to carpet replacements to controversial personnel changes, it seemed that none of the library’s actions were safe from scrutiny.
This can only be expected, as residents who can recall a time when the library’s shelves were overflowing and a friendly librarian was always within arms reach are understandably concerned when they see thinly stocked shelves and cutbacks in staff and programming.
But now that everyone has had the chance to speak their mind, it is time to move forward and look for solutions. And at this point, with budget reports showing that the library is stretching every last dollar available over the last few years, it seems the only viable solution is increased funding.
The library will eventually have a new board president for those who place the blame on the position’s current occupant, Debbie King. And hopefully, Forest Park will eventually have a new governing system to replace the commission form. But the library is in trouble right now, and something needs to be done.
In maintaining the image it has earned as a village on the rise, Forest Park is already charged with the difficult task of attracting young families while having a non-functional public high school. It cannot afford to sit back and watch the library deteriorate as well.
This does not mean that mistakes have not been made. The talk of a referendum is late in arriving and should have been initiated years ago, as many pointed out at the meeting. And though staffing cutbacks were needed, library officials should have refrained from firing its most popular staff members who were seen by its most loyal patrons, the Friends of the Library group, as the glue holding the library together through hard times.
It also became obvious at the meeting that a better job needs to be done explaining spending decisions so that library patrons aren’t left with the impression that money that could be used for books is instead going towards far less urgent building improvements such as new carpeting. On the other hand, a better job could also be done of listening to such explanations.
Is it possible that King and other board members deserve their share of blame? Sure. A sour atmosphere has come to permeate the library and that reflects on an overly defensive leadership. But beyond that, the evidence is inconclusive since the current board has never had the chance to run an adequately financed public library.
Corruption can pop up in the most surprising places, so we won’t rule anything out, but we’re quite sure that a library board is not the most likely place to find the next Watergate.
As far as we can tell, there is no large pool of money to be plundered, no cronies to make rich and no future political ambitions to pursue. Whatever inadequacies the board has could be addressed if those who possess the missing talents step in and help.
We commend the Friends of the Library and other concerned citizens for keeping a close watch on the people trusted with their tax money and hope they will continue to do so. At the same time, however, it is essential that all parties know when the time has come to put their grudges aside and focus on the future.