Editorial: Everything on the library table in Edgartown


This page is relentlessly in favor of libraries. We like the old-fashioned ones, the ones with books, lots of them, but the trend is in another direction. Most new libraries and library expansions these days create splendid community assets that are remarkably pleasant places to be, to study, to entertain oneself, to read, and to have at the technology that today makes libraries more than they ever were, to more people, for a greater variety of purposes.

“The stereotypical library is dying,” John Sutter wrote for CNN on September 4, “and it’s taking its shushing ladies, dank smell, and endless shelves of books with it.

“Libraries are trying to imagine their futures with or without books. Books are being pushed aside for digital learning centers and gaming areas. ‘Loud rooms’ that promote public discourse and group projects are taking over the bookish quiet. Hipster staffers who blog, chat on Twitter, and care little about the Dewey Decimal System are edging out old-school librarians.

“And that’s just the surface. By some accounts, the library system is undergoing a complete transformation that goes far beyond these image changes. Authors, publishing houses, librarians, and Web sites continue to fight Google’s efforts to digitize the world’s books and create the world’s largest library online. Meanwhile, many real-world libraries are moving forward with the assumption that physical books will play a much-diminished or potentially nonexistent role in their efforts to educate the public.

“Some books will still be around, they say, although many of those will be digital. But the goal of the library remains the same: To be a free place where people can access and share information.”

Recently, Chilmark and Oak Bluffs have created large, beautiful, useful libraries. West Tisbury, having executed wonderfully the reconstruction and expansion of its long-ago elementary school, now town hall, will soon turn its attention to enlarging and improving its library. Edgartown’s struggle to enlarge its library has stumbled.

Timing, cost, location, design, the availability of alternative sites, the economic downturn, the weariness of Edgartown voters over municipal spending, and the inability of Edgartown residents to resolve the many debates over size, location, and appearance — all these influences have contributed to the current impasse.

We believe Edgartown voters will find a way through this to a reconceived library that will serve their lovely, wealthy, busy town for a long while, and they will happily fund the result. That’s not to underestimate the difficulty of answering cost, location, and design questions, especially in these economically uncertain times. But, it is to say that the most helpful participants in the discussions will be those with the easy willingness to consider as many possibilities as may be proposed. The landscape is rich in possibilities. Foreclosing any of them before each has been thoroughly examined will be a mistake and risk losing voter support.

Should there be a modest, expanded, gracefully designed expansion of the North Water Street Carnegie library? Here, the view is that there should be. Should the plan be to jam a bigger library into the Carnegie library neighborhood? No. Should there be a satellite techno-library, modeled on the future of libraries as stack-less, book-less, techno-info-access hubs, free to the public generally and students in particular, with parking, bike racks, blindingly fast internet access and the broadest of broad bandwidth, perhaps in the old school building, or just a part of it? Well, maybe. Should the town get out from under the Warren House debt and refocus on what it will take to create a public library that’s old, familiar, and downtown, along with a high concept 21st century library that’s designed for the digital age now and to come and located where the North Water Street aura needn’t be so pronounced? Probably.Is there, despite all that’s been done over the past few years, a need to reopen the question with everything possible on the table? Absolutely.