Hello again:

As promised in my statement issued on March 26 – and building on the exciting news/momentum of our having hired two experienced and local librarians as interim co-directors – the ad hoc committee/working group I am proud to chair has convened for five weeks running to discuss, debate, and brainstorm ways to address the well-known issues facing our library of late. Importantly, we’ve also been doing independent fact-finding and tackling individual assignments between meetings.

Today, I am pleased to report that our committee (again, comprised of both library Trustees and community members) voted on, endorsed, and issued a set of recommendations to the library’s Board of Trustees on April 5th. This vote was after we’d shared these same recommendations with library staff, as promised, via a survey to gain their feedback.

After making a couple adjustments based on staff responses — albeit not wholesale changes some may have hoped for given the approach of the previous Director and given relationships staff have worked hard to foster with many of our community’s marginalized folks — I am nevertheless gratified to say the committee’s recommendations were approved by the full Board of Trustees and will take effect Monday, April 22.

The recommendations are as follows:

  1. Make select updates to the library’s Patron Code of Conduct, including replacement of ambiguous wording which will make our rules easier to enforce and updates to some of those very rules, most notably:
    1. A prohibition of food and drink in the library unless they are part of library programming (e.g. Baby/Toddler time, Taste & Tell Cookbook Club, etc.), sanctioned special events, or done in accordance with limits set for staff (i.e. covered beverages only outside of our kitchen). This will reduce risk of damage to the facility/equipment/collections, help cap cleaning costs, reduce tidy-up demands on staff, and reduce distractions for other patrons.
    2. A prohibition on sleeping in the library.
    3. And clarification regarding the handling of, and expectations for, personal belongings. (It should be noted that we have not prohibited plastic bags or suitcases at this time – as such a rule could result in discrimination; however, we still strongly encourage our elected officials to arrive at a safe, secure, and humane storage option for our community’s unhoused population.)
  1. Engage a security specialist to aid in enforcement of the updated Patron Code of Conduct for the period of 8 weeks (starting April 22). Please bear in mind that we looked at several approaches to ‘adding security’ – including municipal and non-profit collaborations that offered the hope of achieving this goal at zero cost to the library. In the end, however, we will be engaging an exceedingly reputable security contractor (the same company that handles security at the Tompkins County Public Library), whose customer-service philosophy and experience with at-risk populations matches our own. Following this transitional period, our goal is to ‘evolve’ enforcement back to staff in a distributed fashion or even consider the hire of a resource officer. Only time will tell.
  1. Provide additional ‘navigator’ support for members of the at-risk population who may require other options or ways to cope in light of our updated rules and increased enforcement. This help will be provided onsite by non-profit organizations in our community; invites have been extended to, and interest has been shown by, Cayuga Area Recovery Services (CARS), Catholic Charities, Family Counseling Services, CAPCO, Access to Independence, and Rural Health Institute (previously CACTC). Be advised some of these same entities have already been collaborating with the library thanks to relationships established by our previous Director. The difference here, we hope, will be both increased volume and a schedule that consciously runs parallel with the aforementioned temporary security presence at the CFL.
  1. Promotion of, and stricter compliance with, the Federal Clean Air Act, which dictates a prohibition of all tobacco products both inside and within 100 feet of the entrance of public libraries. Increased signage, more frequent walk-by’s from the CPD, and increased attention to security camera views of our front steps will combine to make fuller enforcement possible. And, as a result, we anticipate several benefits, among them decreased litter (cigarette butts and wrappers in particular); easier breathing for non-smoking patrons or those with asthma/allergies; and a reduction in spontaneous social gatherings on our sidewalk and front steps (which is a safety hazard for patrons requiring a clear path or access to handrails).
  1. Other adjustments:
    1. More security camera signage, to discourage illegal or out-of-code behavior;
    2. New signs noting the prohibition of bathing/shaving in restrooms;
    3. Signage that clearly and concisely expresses the most critical rules of our Patron Code of Conduct at a glance and to all patrons entering the facility.
  1. Not altered is the sharps collection system in our restrooms, as both empirical studies and analysis of our own sharps containers demonstrate this is an effective and safe public health strategy.

It is my fervent hope that these measures – the first and most immediate from this committee – will begin to restore balance to our library and help restore the trust of patrons who’ve voiced concerns about our situation… Even if, as has been made clear, our situation was exacerbated by lack of a dedicated daytime warming/cooling/community center for this vulnerable population in Cortland; and even if what we’re facing is a localized symptom of a nationwide challenge.

JH

PS: Ongoing thanks to members of the ad hoc committee/working group; to local officials who’ve made themselves available to CFL representatives over the last few weeks; to the network of social service agencies who’ve offered to help the library through this period; and, of course, to our exceptional staff, whose talent, dedication, patience, and hard work/grace under pressure has been critical during these challenging months.

Greetings:

As most in our community know, the welcoming policies, mission, and environment of the Cortland Free Library have – over this winter — made us an important option for members of our community experiencing homelessness, as well as others who are no doubt struggling with unemployment, chemical dependency, mental health issues, or some combination of these.

Compounded by the lack of a day-time warming shelter – and, if we’re honest, also exacerbated by less-than-ideal behavior from a minority of these patrons which, in turn, has resulted in an increase in calls for support from the Cortland Police Department* – the situation has resulted in highly emotional and charged debate and discourse in our community, in the Cortland Standard, and on social media.

Some in this debate have shown real support, sympathy, and understanding for the library’s position; others have mainly voiced concern and frustration, choosing to curtail their visits or migrate to other libraries; and still others in our community have responded with commentary or actions that have proved to be unconstructive, hurtful, and even threatening.

Significantly and relatedly, our director, Jen Graney, recently submitted her resignation to the Board. (I will not endeavor to speak on Jen’s behalf: Rather, please do take a moment to read her explanation and summary of accomplishments during her tenure here.)

Where do we go from here?

As I indicated in my comments in the March 5th Common Council Meeting, the Board of Trustees has formed an ad hoc committee/working group to address the aforementioned issues and endeavor to correct course: I volunteered to Chair that committee, which is comprised of select Trustees and a handful of community members – all of whom have been invited to join because of their passion, unique perspectives, specific experiences with the matters at hand, and commitment to helping the library. We’re meeting weekly – three times, thus far – and will soon make some initial recommendations to the full Board of Trustees. Importantly, we’ll also garner input from our exceptional and incredibly dedicated staff.

Our focus?

First and foremost, the mission of this working group will be to adjust levers of control directly available to us within the library, including but not limited to revisiting our policies, approach to enforcement, and ways we might assist at-risk populations while remaining true to the library’s mission.

But I will also tell you that the second focus of this group – and one that Director Graney herself initiated and has been pursuing over the last year – will be to act as a catalyst to external factors and action.

As part of this latter goal, we will be counting on the City of Cortland and Cortland County to do more and better to mitigate some of the causes and issues faced by our community’s vulnerable populations. (Indeed, we’ve already had some very positive and frank dialogue with our municipal allies, who are well-aware of the circumstances that have led us here.) We’ve also been in touch with our State representatives, opening those channels of communication should specific actions or support be needed from that quadrant). And, continuing Direct Graney’s work, we will continue to engage and collaborate with the network of social service agencies already doing excellent work in our community.

For the moment, thank you for listening… For your patience and forbearance as we navigate these waters… And for your continuing support in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

You will be hearing from our working group soon – including occasional updates on our plans and tangible progress in ensuring the library remains a pleasant, enjoyable, and safe place for all.

JH

* It should be noted that the “300% increase in calls” for city police support at the library this last year that has been referenced by numerous sources appears (upon further investigation) to lack important context: Many of the calls included in the CPD report were not initiated by library staff (aka: the library’s catalog of police-involved incident reports is lower than the raw CPD data suggests); rather, many were made by concerned residents (still not ideal, mind you) while still others were made by two individual patrons who were, in essence, feuding and calling the CPD on one another.

It is with a heavy heart that I share with you today the news that I am moving on from my position as Library Director at Cortland Free Library. There is so much more I had hoped to do, but at the end of the day, this is an act of self care, which Audre Lorde reminds us is not a matter of self indulgence but rather one of self preservation. I am leaving for the sake of my mental health, to maintain my sobriety, and to prioritize my overall well-being.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working to document as much as I can for my successor, and I’ll provide input to the board on next steps as they seek an interim and permanent replacement.

I’m proud of all I’ve achieved since starting this position in January 2020, including navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and its myriad policy fluctuations and unprecedented closures; lowering barriers to access by eliminating overdue fines, ending CFL’s use of a collection agency, and allowing people to obtain limited-access library cards; recommending and implementing a new phone system, a new time management system, and a new e-newsletter platform; launching the Community Reads program; launching our digitization project; designing and launching an updated website; allocating time during the year for staff development; and applying for and receiving various grants, including $10,000 from the American Library Association and $600,000 in construction aid from New York State.

If you’re reading this, you likely already know that public libraries are America’s most (small-d) democratic institutions. We are open to everyone. We are a reflection of our community, its values and its needs. As we find ourselves in the midst of a crisis of need, we have seen an increase in people forced to live their private lives in public, and we have experienced the challenges that brings from all angles.

I’ve done my best during my time here to address needs our community has related to poverty and homelessness: when I saw an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness, I made it a priority to figure out who our service providers are, where people can go for help, what’s available when, etc., so that we can better provide that information to others. When Cortland County Mutual Aid was looking for an indoors winter location for their Really Free Market, I offered to host them at the library; this season is our fourth. I also sought and provided “Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness” training for library staff through Niche Academy. I continue to work to educate others while attempting to maintain a welcoming environment at the library. This has proven challenging and more support is needed, including additional library staff to better monitor activity in the building.

I’m grateful to our current library staff more than words can say. Theresa, Tammy, Aimee, Will, Kurt, Kristen, Tim, and Robert: thank you for showing up, for your authenticity and courage, your care and compassion, your patience, your sense of justice, your questions, your callouts, your sense of humor, your generosity, and your vulnerability. I’m truly honored to have worked alongside each and every one of you.

Thank you also to our volunteers, our Friends of the Library, our Board of Trustees, and our patrons.

I’m confident that with the support and guidance of the Finger Lakes Library System, our Board can find a director who will continue to move Cortland Free Library forward in accordance with community needs and New York Library Association and American Library Association values and guidelines.

Thank you, as always, for reading, and as Brenè Brown says: stay awkward, brave, and kind. 💜✊🌈

A Note from the Board of Trustees
The board will promptly seek an interim solution so as to be thoughtful about conducting a search for new leadership. We ask for your patience, understanding, and forbearance, and for your support of our excellent library staff at this difficult time.

Any specific questions can and should be directed to Library Board President, Lauren Mossotti-Kline: boardpresident@cortlandfreelibrary.org.

This letter also appeared in our e-newsletter dated 3/4/2024.
We’re excited to share the news that Cortland Free Library has been awarded $2,000 in state funding and to express our gratitude to Senator Lea Webb and her staff for including our library in this allocation! We’re grateful for the recognition of the vital work libraries like ours do in our communities, and we’re proud to be included in such exceptional company, aka our peer libraries who are also recipients of this funding, all of them terrific and deserving institutions in their respective communities and service areas. In the video below, our Board of Trustees VP John Hoeschele joined other representatives from recipient libraries in expressing their thanks, touching upon likely uses for the funding, and the role libraries play in our communities.

Palaces for the People

Cortland Free Library is chartered to serve the city of Cortland as well as the towns of Cortlandville and Virgil–but like all libraries in the Finger Lakes Library System and beyond, we welcome everyone who comes through our doors.

In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in people experiencing homelessness. This isn’t just here in Cortland; it’s across the country. It makes sense that we see folks experiencing homelessness in the library, because libraries are one of the few places you can spend the day without spending a dollar. Andrew Carnegie called libraries “palaces for the people” for a reason; they are vital to our community’s social infrastructure.

In Guidelines for Library Services to People Experiencing Homelessness, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) says:

Homelessness is a worldwide challenge for millions of people. As central locations for essential resources for all community members, it makes sense for libraries to be part of the caring community that seeks to address and even ameliorate the effects of homelessness and poverty. In addition, libraries can provide education to the housed community members regarding the lives of those who are experiencing homelessness.

Stereotypes, prejudice, and stigmatizing attitudes can create barriers between those who are housed and those who are not, and these negative attitudes can also affect library services, policies, and resources.

“When someone who is experiencing homelessness enters a library, they come from an unstable or unpredictable living situation, where they must live their private life in public,” Julie Ann Winkelstein notes in Libraries and Homelessness: An Action Guide. “If you are housed, think about all the activities you pursue inside your home and imagine being watched and sometimes judged for pursuing them.”

She continues: “Experiencing homelessness…can include not having personal connections that create social capital. Because of these challenges, using a library can mean more than the critical resources provided.”

 

Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness Training + How You Can Help

The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness by Ryan Dowd is an excellent book and training we took here at CFL that helped us learn more about what it’s like to experience homelessness. I’ve recorded a short video (also embedded below) in which I share highlights from the training; I also talk about what the library can and can’t provide for folks experiencing homelessness.

The library provides the opportunity to connect with others; to access information; to use a computer or connect to WiFi; to read; to get help from staff; to use the restrooms and water fountains; to attend programs; the list goes on. (And that’s all for everyone, no matter your housing status.)

Unfortunately, there are also many needs we can’t meet, at least not in our current form: showers, laundry, a safe place to sleep, storage for personal items, after-hours phone charging.

This is where you come in. You can help advocate for a low-barrier, year-round shelter in Cortland (something that does not currently exist outside the warming centers at Grace & Holy Spirit and Salvation Army that are open through New York State’s Code Blue initiative November through April). You can donate to organizations like Loaves & Fishes, CAPCO, and Catholic Charities; volunteer at those places, and at the library; and help educate others about the realities of people experiencing homelessness.

This is a population that is dehumanized more than any other.

It’s my hope that by practicing compassion, open-mindedness, and humility, we can help clear a path towards social wellbeing, unity, and growth for our community.

 

A Note on our Code of Conduct

Last but not least: a reminder that we expect everyone to abide by our board-approved code of conduct while on library premises. Please review the code of conduct here and bring any violations to the attention of library staff. Know that the code of conduct will be courteously and firmly enforced by staff, no matter a patron’s housing status.

This letter also appeared in our e-newsletter dated 1/31/2024.

CFL Library Director Jen Graney and NYS Senator Lea Webb standing on either side of a poster of Senator's Webb's District 52, which includes Cortland, Tompkins, and parts of Broome County.
CFL Library Director Jen Graney and NYS Senator Lea Webb with a depiction of District 52. Photo by Senator Webb’s office.

Cortland Free Library has been awarded $601,750 in NYS Library Construction Aid to fund the following projects:

  • Elevator Expansion/Reconfiguration: The elevator will be reconfigured to a three-opening unit with additional stops at the Art Gallery and Northwest Mezzanine, making these areas accessible for the first time to people in wheelchairs and others.

 

  • Main Reading Room HVAC System: This means air conditioning in the Main Reading Room! Those of you who have been here in the summer know that it sometimes hits 90 degrees in the stacks. With an eye towards energy efficiency, this new system will also help provide comfort and safety to staff, patrons, and our library materials.

 

  • New Spaces in the Main Reading Room: More exciting changes in the Main Reading Room include a build-out of the existing circulation desk and relocation to the center of the room; a dedicated Teen Space; a dedicated Community Room; a staff office partition; and a Makerspace to be added to the Northwest mezzanine!

 

  • Parapet Section Replacement: Southwest sections of the parapet are crumbling and allowing water seepage into the building; this replacement will help prevent future damage.

 

  • Permanent Exterior Sign: Highly visible, colorful permanent sign to be installed at the Northeast corner of the building.

Our thanks to Assemblymember Anna Kelles and Senator Lea Webb who announced the news of CFL and many other libraries in our region receiving this funding.

CFL will be responsible for matching up to 25% of the award. We’ve already begun planning for the project’s start, together with our Buildings & Grounds Committee (chaired by Myron Walter) and our architect Jon Carnes (Crawford & Stearns). We will also be working closely with the State Historic Preservation Office to ensure the work is aligned with the requirements and needs of our state-registered historic building. We expect this to be a multi-year project. Stay tuned as work gets underway!

These funds are from $34 million in capital funds for public library construction and broadband infrastructure projects provided in the FY2022-2023 State Budget. To view other projects that were funded and to learn more about the urgent need New York’s public libraries have for renovations and upgrades, visit https://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/info/plcovrvw.htm

Bonnie Haines grew up in Homer and is a 35-year resident of Virgil, a vital part of the library’s service area. At present, she serves as a human resources consultant and auditor for Greek Peak Mountain Resort, where she previously held the positions of Human Resources Director, as well as the post of General Manager at the resort’s Hope Lake Lodge. Prior to that, Haines was a personal banker at KeyBank and a Human Resources Specialist, District Manager, and Store Manager for Tops Friendly Markets/Wilson Farms. She has also served as District Secretary to the Virgil Fire District Commissioners since 2009.

“We are so excited to welcome Bonnie to our team of Trustees, where her experience with human resources, organizational structure, and other aspects of managing complex, service- and people-oriented operations will prove valuable,” said Cortland Free Library Board President, Lauren Mossotti-Kline. “As a new member of our Personnel and Nominating Committees, Bonnie will contribute to discussion related to performance evaluations, Trustee recruitment and onboarding, compensation structures, employee recruitment, retention, and more. As a Trustee, she’ll also join the rest of our board in broader responsibilities that include fiduciary oversight, long-term planning, and advocating for the library in the community.”

Haines also expressed enthusiasm for joining the Board and the notion of supporting the Cortland Free Library as an institution and community resource.

“There is an amazing number of resources and programs available through the library, geared towards all types of people and all types of needs,” she said. “It is also staffed with kind, caring and passionate employees and volunteers that are there to serve and assist the community they serve. I also really appreciate library’s comfortable environment, architecture, and rich history.”

Outside of her professional endeavors, Haines enjoys family and activities stemming from the 50- acre property she and her husband, Carl, own in Virgil, which includes an apple orchard, numerous blueberry bushes, and grape vines.

On Tuesday, May 16, the library’s budget will be on the same ballot as the Cortland City School District for your vote. For the first time, we are asking for more than a 2% increase. We want you to understand what that means, so to learn more about our budget, expenses, history of our funding structure, reasons behind the increase, and exciting projects on the horizon, please visit https://cortlandfreelibrary.org/funding-value/

We’re excited to announce that Glenn Reisweber has joined Cortland Free Library’s Board of Trustees.

A resident of Cortland since 2003, Reisweber served as the Professor of Military Science at Cornell University. Upon his retirement from the United States Army and the Cornell post, he assumed the role of Executive Director of the Lime Hollow Nature Center, a position he held for 15 years and where his achievements included overseeing construction of that organization’s visitor center (2007); establishment of an environmental education center (2015); considerable expansion of the center’s summer camp program; and opening of the Lime Hollow Forest Preschool, which is the first forest preschool in the State of New York to be certified by the Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) as a day-care provider.

“We are incredibly excited to welcome Glenn to our team, where we know his experience running and growing a local and beloved non-profit will add value and insight to the library,” said Cortland Free Library Board President, Lauren Mossotti-Kline. “Glenn’s knowledge of operations, diverse programming, and infrastructure, as well as his deep expertise with running a thriving youth-camp are all significant assets to us and to the community we serve.”

Reisweber echoed Mossotti-Kline’s comments, adding: “After spending most of my time in Cortland helping people of all ages physically experience and enjoy the great outdoors, I’m looking forward to helping my fellow Trustees and library staff enrich our community by broadening and nourishing our minds through all our local library has to offer.”

In addition to serving on the Cortland Free Library Board, Reisweber works with the OCM BOCES New Vision Environmental Science Program as a substitute teacher, now volunteers at the Lime Hollow Nature Center, and is active in the Cortland Breakfast Rotary Club. He enjoys spending time outdoors year-round with his growing family and takes pride in reading Owl Moon by Jane Yolen with his grandchildren before they go owling each year.

Originally from Buffalo, Reisweber holds a Bachelor of Science from West Point in International Affairs, and a Master of Arts in National Security Affairs from the Naval Postgraduate School.

Summer reading programs began in the 1890s, the American Library Association tells us, as a way to encourage school children, particularly those in urban areas and not needed for farm work, to read during their summer vacation, use the library and develop the habit of reading.

Over the years it continued as a way to help stop the “summer slide” and to keep kids engaged throughout the summer. This year’s theme is Oceans of Possibilities, and rather than being just for kids, it’s open to all ages. We are in Week 4 of this year’s program and thought we’d share a few of our own Summer Reading stories.

Tammy Sickmon, Youth Services LibrarianMiss Tammy, Youth Services Librarian: Summer reading is when we get to shine and get families into the library to show them how fun it is here. Sometimes this is the only time I get to see some families and kids, whether because parents work or because the kids are in the many camp groups that come to the library during the summer. While it is a crazy time of the year, it is worth all the work to see how happy it makes the kids. I especially love that it gives us an excuse 😉 to get dressed up in silly outfits and go all out decorating the youth services room.

I joined Cortland Free Library right at the beginning of the 2015 Summer Reading Program “Every Hero Has a Story.”  I remember the fun of dressing up as a super librarian and all the giggles it brought to kids and adults.  One of my favorite memories from that summer was a toddler that also dressed up as a superhero.

 

Tim, Circulation Desk Assistant: My summer reading anecdote/suggestion is that I like to pick books to take on vacation with me that are equal parts fiction/equal parts non-fiction. I tend to read the former in the evening to “decompress” from the daily excursions, and I save the latter for earlier in the day/vacation/etc. I like to challenge myself with truth, yet I still have time to “escape” in fiction.

 

 

Jen, Library Director: The first actual library Summer Reading program I remember was in my hometown library in Rush, NY where I volunteered in what must have been the early 90s, listening to kids give summaries of the books they’d read so they could get their prizes. Since then, the best part of summer reading for me has always been taking a stack of books and a notebook outside and reading outdoors. Being beneath a tree, on grass, near water, etc., enhances the entire experience for me, including reflection on the reading. And here at the library, the energy and excitement in Youth Services is through the roof in summer, thanks in large part to Miss Tammy who exudes enthusiasm!

 

Kristen, Circulation Desk Assistant: This is my first summer participating in the Summer Reading Program as a staff member here at the Cortland Free Library! I am so excited to be a part of all of the amazing things that we do here. I have loved getting to know all of the fantastic readers that we have here in Cortland. Whether it’s those that come to the circulation desk with a tall pile of books or our young readers that are ecstatic because they have just won a free book, all of the excitement to read here makes me smile.

My favorite thing to do in the summer when I was younger was to read whatever I wanted. There were no teachers telling me that I had to read this or I had to read that; everything I read was for pure enjoyment. I would start each summer with a list of what I wanted to get through and I would spend all of my free time reading. Whether I was out in the sunshine or inside where I could keep cool, my nose was always in a book. As I got older, my summers have become full other things and people that need my time. Summer reading isn’t as it used to be. My mother told me that at some point, it will be my turn to enjoy my summers and my reading like I used to. I’m looking forward to days full of sunshine, iced tea, and books… lots and lots of books.

Do you have a Summer Reading story to share? Tell us in the comments!