Tale of Two Libraries

The West Tisbury and Edgartown library building projects are textbook examples of the right and wrong way to do things.

In West Tisbury, under the able, steady leadership of library trustee Dan Waters, the library project has been done the right way during the last year and a half. The public was engaged from the start, first in open-ended discussions about the library and its future and eventually in concept and building design. A separate group was formed to raise private matching money. The numbers, while still far from final, have been presented in a clear and understandable manner. The project is lamentably too big due to state library board requirements tied to population that are not completely applicable in this seasonal community; nevertheless, the West Tisbury library building group is well-prepared to submit its application for a state grant due in two weeks.

By contrast the Edgartown project, now so far off the tracks that it is unclear if it can be salvaged at all, was done the wrong way from the start. The public was never engaged in open discussions and the purchase of the Warren House adjacent to the library was a rush job, placed on a special town meeting warrant by petition at the height of summer in August 2004, a season of distractions for year-round residents and voters. The Warren House purchase was never part of a town capital planning project; rather it was an idea that came up suddenly and was accompanied by no coherent long-range plan. Sadly, now the town will pay the price as the owner of a building for which it paid top money and will now be forced to sell at a loss. There is a quiet lesson here: Petitioned articles for capital projects are bad government.

As the sand runs out in the hourglass on the state grant applications, it is hard to believe that Edgartown is in any position to apply for the money. Library trustees are busy bickering among themselves and cannot seem to get on the same page with the town library building committee, which is struggling to find a way out of the mess on behalf of the town.

And beyond all the bricks and mortar talk lies the more central question of volume. More people use the West Tisbury library than any library on the Island, while in Edgartown the number of people using the library is by comparison significantly less.

Perhaps they are thinking in Edgartown, if you build it, they will come.

But that is wrongheaded and at this stage all eyes are on the Edgartown selectmen who have called a special meeting for Monday afternoon with the various parties involved. It would be to the town’s advantage for the selectmen to be tough-minded and find a way to put their library project back on track.