Martin Miller: Jones Library project deserves continued support

The Jones Library on Wednesday afternoon in Amherst.

The Jones Library on Wednesday afternoon in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By MARTIN MILLER

Published: 11-29-2023 8:43 PM

The Amherst Town Council will be making a very important decision at an upcoming December meeting. I, along with a likely majority of voters (based on the results of the town vote in 2021), are asking that the council vote in favor of amending the borrowing cap for the Jones Library capital project. For the last several months I have been assisting their fundraising efforts as a volunteer.

Anything that we do collectively to allow for the free flow of ideas, facts and truthful information contributes to the preservation of our democracy. A state-of-the-art library — which is really a community center — will properly serve current and future needs for decades to come and is vital to the future economic life of Amherst and its surrounding towns.

In a recent article in the New York Times, a group of reporters and photojournalists went around the country to observe what modern-day libraries have to offer. They were surprised at what they learned. Their article concluded with this: “Know — beyond a shadow of a doubt, in a time rife with shadows that libraries are the beating hearts of our communities. What we borrow from them pales in comparison to what we keep. How often we pause to appreciate their bounty is up to us.”

I have been very upset by misinformation about this project. For example: There is incorrect information about what the Town Council is being asked to do at this time. Members are NOT being asked to increase the town’s financial commitment to this project. They are being asked to simply raise the borrowing authorization as required by the state grant.

The trustees of the library have committed, legally, to maintain the town’s contribution at the same dollar level as voted by the Town Council in April 2021 and approved by a townwide vote. The trustees have substantially increased their fundraising from individuals and other sources to do that (with those pledges of support being realized over time), and while they do not want to spend down the library’s endowment, it does serve as a financial backstop, if needed, to protect the town.

During the 26 years that my family and I have been residents of Amherst, the Town Council, and Town Meeting before it, have allocated funding for a multitude of projects, which I would venture to guess has totaled in the tens, if not the hundreds of millions of dollars. Of course, many of us supported those projects. Again, what is being requested now is an increase in the borrowing authorization for the library project, not an increase of what has already been approved to be spent by the town.

Council members should continue to support this project, and vote in alignment with the 65% of voters who endorsed the town’s stake in it.

If there are really serious concerns about Amherst’s finances, why don’t we have a constructive conversation about where those savings might come from to support other projects vital to the town, without going back on what has already been approved?

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Fundamentally, the Jones Library and this campaign should be supported by our Town Council because it is not only a place for learning, study, and the preservation and exchange of knowledge, it is also part of the cultural economy of Amherst. If you look at cities and towns around Massachusetts and in other states, you will find that the establishment of vibrant cultural consortiums are positive economic drivers.

This project, as currently envisioned, will be that for Amherst.

I believe failure to move forward as planned would seriously jeopardize Amherst’s ability to secure state and federal government funding and grants. So much good work has been done by many people, including our elected representatives, to help us secure those funds. Funding for this project is already 84% toward its goal. This demonstrates across-the-board support for the library.

From my many years of experience as a manager (I retired as president of New England Public Media in February 2022), I had to make many decisions that involved risks, and which did not have everyone’s support. But by taking those risks, public media has grown, and those decisions have proved to be the right ones. I know that a favorable vote by the Amherst Town Council will have the same result.

Here are some things I have learned during the course of my career: If people dislike change, they are going to dislike irrelevance even more. Leaders take people where they want to go. Great leaders take people where they don’t want to go, but ought to.

I respectfully ask every council member to please be the great leaders Amherst needs right now.

Martin Miller lives in Amherst.