40 attend informational meeting to debate library’s options

Published 1:43 am Thursday, April 17, 2003

By By JOHN EBY / Dowagiac Daily News
About 40 people attended a meeting Wednesday night organized by the Ladies Library Association in the First United Methodist Church basement to discuss Dowagiac Public Library's future.
A decision to resolve the district library issue feels imminent.
In fact, there is a meeting of the planning committee at 4 p.m. today in the conference room adjacent to the council chamber upstairs at City Hall.
Sentiments were expressed to Second Ward Councilman Bob Schuur that the city hold off any action until after Silver Creek Township votes in July.
Some Silver Creek township residents say the board does not speak for its citizens. There is confusion, they said, because many Silver Creek residents think the July 8 vote relates to Dowagiac District Library -- and not to affiliate with Cass District Library.
Schuur responded, "I'm sure the vote will be no. Why would you pay for something you've never paid for and had for free all these years? We were so sure that Dowagiac would carry Wayne and Silver Creek because what resident is not going to say they'd like their taxes reduced? The other thing the city is somewhat worried about is the library's 100 years old. It needs some major work."
An election in which it could not prevail was (Silver Creek Supervisor) "Bob Ausra's complaint," recalled former library director John Mohney, who now directs Paw Paw District Library in Van Buren County.
Mohney said the "30-year-old part" of the library is the problem.
One option would be closing the financially strapped public library, but no one seems to be advocating exercising that one in a community that has spent a decade developing its reputation as a literary mecca featuring authors at May's Dogwood Fine Arts Festival.
Emotions are running high and something as uncontroversial as a library has become a political hot potato.
Will Dowagiac respect the fact that Silver Creek Township has spoken and does not want to be part of a proposed Dowagiac District Libary or be swept in by the school district?
In the absence of Silver Creek's participation and tax base, Dowagiac could opt to adopt its own resolution to join Cass District Library.
Then Dowagiac residents, paying a mill of property tax for 45 years, would vote on .75 mill in perpetuity, as Silver Creek voters will be asked July 8.
In an agreement with Cass District Library, it would be spelled out that the Public Library's assets would be transferred, as happened 10 years ago when Cass County Library merged with LaGrange Township to form the District Library.
If Dowagiac determines it will continue independent of Cass, the District Library is interested in at least establishing a reciprocal borrowing agreement.
The Ladies Library Association is a fundraising friends group.
Cass District Library Director Dr. M.E. Harper said in an interview this week, "If Dowagiac merges with Cass, friends are very helpful. I depend on them. They raise money for books. The group in Howard has its own mission. It raised money for the last two years to meet the Plym match that let us renovate the building. Mason has established a friends group. And Edwardsburg is now looking at doing that.
Harper added, "The District Library board and the applicants need to engage in a planning process that includes the community. Everybody who wants to be heard needs to be part of this visioning process" which answers questions such as, "What do you want from library service? It may turn out that Silver Creek doesn't really want a branch. I'm not going to force a branch on them. It may turn out nobody wants story hour anymore. I need to be responsive to that. But with so much at stake, the only real way to find out what the people want is to ask the people. The more players there are, the easier it would be to absorb the cost of the Dowagiac building and the existing services that are there. It really is way too emotional at this point. Nobody's trying to take the library away. We're trying to make it better. Bill wanted to make it better when he said the city couldn't keep doing this without equitable tax support."