ABBOT 140 COLUMN
Funding Abbot Public Library a public and private collaboration
This is the sixth in a series of columns about Abbot Public Library, which celebrates its 140th birthday in 2018. The columns explore the people and events important to the success of the library throughout its history.
By Jo Ann Augeri Silva
When Abbot Public Library holds its 140th birthday party on April 29, it will celebrate the success of a public/private partnership that started with Benjamin Abbot’s $103,000 bequest to the Town of Marblehead.
The Town followed Abbot’s wish that the money be used to construct a building for the use of its residents. When Abbot Hall was nearing completion, JJH Gregory persuaded Town Meeting that $20,000 of the bequest should be used to “put some brains” in the grand new building by establishing a library.
A six member Board of Trustees, elected in staggered three-year terms, was established to govern the Library. And, as it does today, the Town budgeted taxpayer funds to support the Library: paying employees, maintaining the building, and, partially, funding neededmaterials.
From the beginning, it was clear that private donors would be critical not only to the Library‘s growth as a living and thriving entity, but to its survival. Gregory certainly knew it – his donation of $2000 toward purchasing the first books established a tradition that lives on and flourishes.
Keeping the Library’s materials sufficiently stocked and up to date was the motivation behind establishing the Second Century Fund in 1991, says current Board of Trustees Chair Phyllis Smith.
Between 1982 and 1992, the cost of materials such as books and periodicals rose more than 45 percent, while budgeted funding for materials rose only three percent. The Library was forced to curtail spending on new books, especially expensive research volumes, and to cancel many magazine subscriptions — dire actions for a public library with among the most active subscribers in the state.
The Library did not, at that point, have a permanent endowment fund to provide continuing support for Library materials. The Second Century Fund provided that vehicle. A significant sum was raised from generous donors. Those funds are managed bySCF trustees, who disburse money to Library Trustees each year. SCF funds pay for additional materials – and materials only. Judith Eissner, founding chair of the Second Century Fund, continues to serve as chair.
Since 1982, the Library has been assisted financially by the Friends of Abbot Public Library, through its quarterly book sales. A few weeks ago, Trustees used private funds to create the Sail Away Book Shoppe on the first floor, a charming glass-enclosed store selling gently used books. “This will reduce the work that goes into those quarterly sales,” says Smith. Friends will continue sorting books for sale and staff the shop.Proceeds from the shop will go toward both children’s and adult programming, and towards the purchase of subsidized museum passes for Library cardholders.
Taxpayer dollars do not support programming at the Library, so for programs and renovations, (other than major additions which require Town Meeting/override approval), private funding must be used. The Library hosted more than 300 programs last year.
The recent, much praised renovation of the Children’s Room was funded by the Killamtrust. Oliver P. Killam left the Town millions of dollars, whose interest income annually provides support for significant college scholarships for Marblehead high school students, as well as an annual distribution to the Library in support of children’s and young adult activities.
Previously, private funds given to the Library through bequests were held by the Town Treasurer and disbursed as Trustees requested. Some familiar names attached to the fundsinclude: Virginia Carten, a local artist whose bequest was targeted toward art programming at the Library (the Virginia Carten Gallery is named for her); the Harold B. and Elizabeth L. Shattuck Fund, which this year paid for the upgrade of audio visual equipment in the Meeting Room; the Elaine Hoff Sorenson Fund, which paid for the new Friends book shoppe; and the Robert E Morse fund, which helps with the annual upkeep of the library.
If held by the Town, however, monies in those private funds cannot be invested, so they earn only a modest amount of interest. And, if someone wished to donate to one of the existing private funds held by the Town, their donation would not be tax deductible.
The reality of the funding situation at Abbot Public Library is this: Taxpayer funding of the Library budget has been level funded at $1 million for the past decade. Since costs have continued to rise exponentially over that decade, Trustees realized that a vehicle was necessary to accept bequests and donations that could be tax deductible, invested wisely, earn interest, and grow.
That led to the establishment, two years ago, of the Abbot Public Library Fund, Inc. which acts as the foundation arm for the Library. Volunteer Charles Ives was largely responsible for the initiative. Donations and bequests to the APLF Inc. are tax deductible, can be invested, and can be targeted to certain uses, or not, depending on the wishes of the donor. For example, as mentioned above, the Killam Trust disburses funds to the APLF Inc. annually, and those monies must be used for programs or materials and/orrenovations that affect children or young adults
The surprise bequest made by Virginia (Jinny) Pope, however, is unrestricted, and may be used for any purpose Trustees approve. Her bequest was the first donor contribution to the APLF, Inc. When Pope, an avid reader, contacted Library Director Patricia Rogers to ask the best recipient for a donation she was considering, Rogers suggested the newly established APLF Inc. A few days later, Rogers received a small, hand written envelope containing a $50,000 check. Pope passed away just three short weeks later.
APLF Inc. has been the funding source for the Abbot 140 birthday events, say Smith and Trustee Nancy Arata, who is Vice Chair of the Library Trustees. The funds are also being used to pay for an architectural study to determine how best to renovate the Library for the future. The addition completed in 1991, both Smith and Arata say, was supposed to serve the Town’s needs for 25 years. Some 30 years later, both technology and library usage have changed dramatically.
“The library has used its 140th year to communicate to the Town more about its services and mission, in the hope of engaging people about its mission and its future,” says Arata.“After spending the last two years developing data sets on issues confronting the library, doing community surveys and local focus groups, the Trustees feel they know what the community expects.
“They are now working with architects to design a major renovation – details are developing and we will be prepared to share more in the fall. Our goal is to provide Marblehead with the 21st Century library it deserves, and to reinforce its definition as a community center.”