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Massena Town Council closes library

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MASSENA - At 5 p.m. Friday, Massena Public Library employees closed up for the weekend, but they aren’t sure when they will return to work.

The Massena Town Council decided to close the library indefinitely effective Monday. The board reached its unanimous decision following a two-hour executive session Friday.

The lack of a library director and board quorum necessitated a temporary closure, Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said. Director Lynn Fountain stepped down last week, and three board members - President John Acton, Vice President Richard Geiser and Michael Gleason all recently resigned, leaving Lisa Bero as the only one remaining.

The mass resignations followed a period of accusations between board members and staff and controversy about the hiring process for the next director to replace Ms. Fountain.

No board and no director means there’s no management personnel to oversee the library staff and day-to-day operations, Mr. Gray said.

Another special meeting is scheduled for this Wednesday, when the town board plans to once again considering filling board vacancies and hiring an interim director.

Town attorney Eric Gustafson consulted with the council during the Friday morning meeting. The council will attempt to hire an interim director, appoint a board and reopen the library as soon as possible, Mr. Gray said.

“The town council was reluctant to take such a dramatic step, but we felt it necessary to ensure the town’s resources are protected and well managed. We have what we feel is the finest library in the north country, and we don’t want anything to jeopardize it,” Mr. Gray said in a statement.

“We appreciate the community’s patience and support while we work through this unprecedented circumstance,” he added.

Mr. Gray said he hadn’t originally anticipated closing the library after its board lost a quorum. But the $750,000-a-year library needs direct management, he said.

“After much discussion, it seemed inevitable,” he said. “It’s pretty difficult to operate any enterprise without direct oversight ... This is unprecedented.”

Patrons continued to check out books, use the computers and read periodicals at the library Friday. But as the afternoon wore on, the staff began fielding phone calls and questions from patrons as word about the closure spread.

“We don’t want to get their hopes up and tell them Thursday,” Children’s Librarian Elaine Dunne-Thayer said of the library’s reopening.

“We have no idea.”

Ms. Dunne-Thayer said the eight library employees have been asked to use their vacation hours. She also said they have been told to not enter the building during the closure.

Ms. Dunne-Thayer said the employees were not expecting the library to close following the recent controversy there.

“We really didn’t know what to think,” she said. “Now we’re not sure where any of us stand.”

MPL submits many books into the North Country Library System’s Inter Library Loan program, Ms. Dunne Thayer said. The closing could also affect the availability of books at other libraries.

The closure also surprised library patrons. Donald G. Sprague, 59, of Massena has used the library frequently for the last 12 years. He has no internet or cable television connection at his home and depends on the library for computer use.

“I don’t even have an idea of where else I would go,” he said. “For someone like me, this is a major part of my life.”

Another patron, Ken L. Marlow of Massena, stops in MPL a few times a week. He organizes his bills and finances on a library table before completing other errands downtown.

“I come here because it’s peaceful and quiet,” he said. “There’s people who come here quite frequently just to read and study.”

Valerie Simmons of Massena is a substitute teacher and tutor employed by the Massena Central School District. She has had to make other arrangements for the students she normally tutors at the library.

She hoped the closure would be brief.

“It’s a bit of a shock,” she said. “It’s unfortunate for the staff.”

Mary A. Vannella read a copy of the New York Times on the table. She grew up in Massena, but had since moved to Ocean City, New Jersey and was visiting her parents for the weekend.

She stops by the library any time she’s home; it’s one of her favorite places to go when she’s back.

“I have nothing but high praise for this place,” she said.

The town council made no library board appointments on Friday. Mr. Gray previously said he knew of two interested of joining the board. Anyone else interested in serving on the library board can contact Mr. Gray’s office at 315-769-3588.

Councilmen John F. Macaulay, Charles A. Raiti and Robert Cunningham could not be reached for further comment Friday. Deputy Supervisor Albert N. Nicola declined comment.

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