Robert Feller, Guilderland library candidate
GUILDERLAND — “I think we’re in an important transition in the library,” said Robert Feller. “We just had a bond vote go down,” he said of the 2012 defeat for expansion. “We have to think about what that means in our long-term plan.”
Feller has served on the board for four-and-a-half years. He was initially appointed to the board in January 2010 and came in third in that May’s election — a year that had three candidates and a write-in for fourth place.
Feller, who currently serves as the board’s secretary, said there could be “significant debates” this year about changes.
Feller works as a lawyer, primarily with environmental, land use, and municipal law, for Bond, Schoeneck & King.
“I always try to do some public service,” he said. “The library is one of the most important institutions in any community.”
Feller said his family frequently uses the library and he checks out CDs and movies, and also enjoys events at the library. As a lawyer, with a heavy professional reading schedule, he doesn’t have much time to read books, he said.
One of the things he’s proudest of during his tenure on the board is “pushing the board to establish a communications committee,” Feller said.
Citing the bond defeat by a vote of 3 to 1 followed by the next year’s budget passing with a narrower margin than usual, Feller said, “We need to be better plugged in…I feel chastened…We need to do a better job with community outreach and keep our finger better on the pulse of the community.”
He noted that library board meetings are open to the public, “but we have to do more,” he said.
Feller went on, “We’re looking at a campaign to get more people issued library cards.” He also said programming off site is a possibility, for instance, for elderly residents of McKownville who find the drive along Route 20 to the library “treacherous.”
Feller said, too, that it is important for the library to “interface better with the town government,” with the school district, and with the chamber of commerce.
Feller supports the proposed $3.5 million budget, noting it increased the levy 1.4 percent, within the state-set limit. “It really translates into two pennies a year,” Feller said of the increase per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
“A lot of people now are having trouble keeping their heads above water,” he added, stressing the increase is “modest.”
Feller also said that a lot of library expenses are not discretionary and named staff contracts, utility costs, accountant services for audits, attorney fees, and insurance costs.
“We’ll just be treading water with what we have,” said Feller. “At the end of the day, we try to balance the value of the library collection and the physical building with making sure we don’t put an undue burden on people.”
Feller concluded on the budget, “We want to get our message out and see what people tell us. We don’t want to see that input just on Election Day.”
On the role of the library in the Internet age, Feller said, “I think libraries in general are in somewhat of a transition phase. We have to make sure we still provide valuable services and are relevant.”
He also said, “We really don’t have a town center in Guilderland. We provide lectures, concerts, movies — programs for different age groups.”
He said, too, the library is developing “specialty areas,” such as in genealogy with Internet sources not widely available elsewhere. Periodicals like the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times that can’t be read for free online are also available at the library, he said.
“There are people who like to have physical books, in hand,” Feller went on, and he also noted videos and CDs can be checked out.
“We are looking at more electronic stuff,” said Feller, such as e-books. He also said, “Not everybody has a computer at home.”
He concluded, “We have a very robust attendance overall. If our services were irrelevant, we wouldn’t have so many coming to our door.”
On future plans, Feller said, referring to more library use during an economic recession, “We’ve always seen these cyclical things.”
He named two issues he thinks are most important for long-term planning. One is to look at combining with the Altamont Free Library. The Altamont library, which predates the Guilderland library, is a rare free library in the midst of a public library district.
In New York State, public libraries, which follow school district lines, have elected boards with the ability to levy taxes based on public budget votes. Free libraries have appointed boards and are funded through a patchwork of municipal support, grants, and gifts, as they don’t have the ability to levy taxes.
Feller said of the Altamont library, “They’re successful in being a folksy, community library; there could be some lessons for us and some mutual benefits.”
Second, he said, “We should be thinking about what to do with the adjacent property.” The library purchased land east of it on Western Avenue and tore down the house there in preparation for the expansion, which was voted down. “Maybe it could be a reading garden…or we could invite a private company like a Starbucks to set up there,” said Feller.
Asked if he thought it was likely the land would be used for an expansion, Feller said, “Not in the short term, when you lose 3 to 1. Even though I personally thought expansion was good for the community…you have to respect that vote. We would need a clear signal from the community.”
Feller concluded, “A trustee has to balance what he or she thinks is good with what the community thinks…We do want to encourage people to communicate with us.”