By PHIL NOBILE
Despite a rise in total circulation numbers and a tradition spanning more than 80 years in Purchase, the community’s library is facing possible removal from its premises, spawning a movement to keep the library put.
The Purchase Free Library, a tenant inside the Purchase Community House—a community building that offers recreational activities—on the corner of Anderson Hill Road and Purchase Street since 1928, is facing the possibility of leaving the historic location for good. According to Martha Greenberg, the president of the Purchase Free Library’s Board of Trustees, the community house has put them on a month-to-month lease since the beginning of the year, and the vision for the community house’s future does not include the community library.
“We never thought for a moment we could lose our space at the community house,” Greenberg said. “Our little library is one of the few educational hubs in the area. It has always been a fixture of Purchase.”
According to Greenberg, who has been the president of the library’s board for more than five years, the library normally renews its lease yearly with the community house. At the beginning of this year, though, the library was only give a monthly lease by the Purchase Community House and told it would be given “adequate notice” if it has to move out.
The Board of Directors for the Purchase Community House told concerned members of the library that a master plan had been in the works for the community house’s future to redesign interior and exterior aspects of the building. Greenberg, other board members and employees of the library soon found out the Purchase Free Library was not included in the plans and, according to Greenberg, a vote will be held at the community house board’s May meeting that could ultimately oust them from the building.
“Several of our board members were told ‘it’s basically a done deal’ by the director of the community house,” Greenberg said. “This is a real crime and a tragedy. As the library’s Board of Trustees, we have an obligation to oppose any action the Purchase Community House takes against this jewel of the community.”
The community house’s director, Jim Kelly, denied the claims from Greenberg and the library officials outright. He said the Board of Directors for the Purchase Community House has yet to make a specific decision regarding the library’s future.
“Our board has not yet made that final decision,” he said. “We commend the library and they’ve done a great job over the years, which makes this a tough conversation.”
Kelly, who has been the director of the community house for more than 15 years, said that the board has been in talks with the Purchase Free Library since December about possibly removing the library from the premises, citing security concerns.
In a April 22, 2014, statement to the community, the Purchase Community House cited the library as an “incompatible tenant” at the location due to the inability to “restrict entry or remove a visitor from its leased premises” due to the library being a public entity.
However, Kelly did not cite a specific instance of a security issue.
When asked about implementing a security guard instead of removing the library altogether, Kelly said it was discussed “at length” by the community house board, but ultimately does not solve the potential problems.
“While having a security guard on-site would be beneficial, this raises other concerns and does not address the fundamental issue that the library cannot deny access to a public patron who wants to ‘hang out’ at the library,” Kelly said.
Library officials remain puzzled as to why removal is being considered when circulation, transactions and total number of patrons have steadily increased over the past few years, according to numbers provided by Purchase Free Library Administrator Linda Smith.
“When you think about libraries in danger of closing, more than likely there is a lack of public funds or lack of community support. This isn’t true with us,” Greenberg said. “We’re in the [town] budget, we’re very modest and we carefully attend to our finances, and we’re thinking this is an arbitrary decision by the community house.”
According to Kelly, the library’s performance and duties have nothing to do with removing the library, and the master plan for the community house’s future is not related to the current dilemma.
The library, which has five part-time employees, is now mobilizing.
More than 400 signatures have been garnered online and on paper for a petition to keep the library afloat, according to Greenberg, who added the potential loss of the library violates the spirit and intent of the community house according to the house’s creed of “fostering fellowship among Purchase residents” and “wholesome activities, which unite the neighborhood in loyalty.”
“Once the library is gone, [the Purchase community] won’t be getting it back,” Greenberg said.