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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, unsure when they will return.

Facing what the town supervisor called “unprecedented” circumstances — a wave of resignations over the last two weeks that left the library with no director and no functioning board of trustees — the Massena Town Council decided Friday to close the library indefinitely, effective Monday. The unanimous decision was reached after a two-hour executive session.

“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,” Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said in a statement. “We have what we feel is the finest library in the north country, and we don’t want anything to jeopardize it.”

The move saddened the library’s regular patrons and left its eight employees worried about the fate of their jobs.

“We really didn’t know what to think,” Children’s Librarian Elaine A. Dunne-Thayer said. “Now we’re not sure where any of us stand.”

She said employees were asked to take vacation time and were told not to enter the building while the library is closed.

The council will hold another special meeting Wednesday to discuss the matter. Council members, who consulted town attorney Eric J. Gustafson in their meeting Friday, will attempt to hire an interim director, appoint a board and reopen the library as soon as possible, Mr. Gray said.

Meanwhile, the lack of day-to-day management of the $750,000-a-year operation necessitated the temporary closure, Mr. Gray said.

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

Director Lynn M. Fountain stepped down the week before last, and three board members — President John W. Acton, Vice President Richard L. Geiser and Michael J. Gleason — all resigned last week, leaving only Lisa J. Bero remaining on the board.

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.

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

“We don’t want to get their hopes up and tell them Thursday,” Ms. Dunne-Thayer said. “We have no idea.”

Despite the recent turmoil, employees did not expect to see the library close, she said.

The library submits many books to the North Country Library System’s interlibrary loan program, she said, so the closing also could affect the availability of books at other libraries.

The closure also surprised patrons. Donald G. Sprague, 59, of Massena has used the library frequently for the past 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, Kenneth L. Marlow of Massena, stops in 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 children she normally tutors at the library.

She said 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 sat and read a copy of the New York Times. She grew up in Massena, moved to Ocean City, N.J., and was back 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 Friday. Mr. Gray previously said he knew of two people interested in joining the board. Anyone else interested in serving on the library board can call Mr. Gray’s office at 769-3588.

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

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