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OPINION: Southington faces tough choices on library project

I’ve been thinking a lot about books lately because I’m trying to get rid of them. It’s awful. I put a pile of books into a box and tape up the box and almost immediately want to undo the tape and open the box to make sure that, indeed, these are books I want to get rid of. What’s the matter with me?

I like the idea of putting books out there, “into the wild” as they say at bookcrossing.com. I like little libraries. And I know that things are just things, and books are things, so you can get rid of them and not suffer great loss.

But, I’ll be honest. As much as I like the idea of spreading books around that’s not why I’m trying to get rid of them. I’m trying to declutter. And I’m certain there are lots of folks who like books, and read them, more than I do. And I’m pretty sure there were a lot of them gathering in Southington the other night.

“I was excited to see people so passionate about the books.” So said Tina Riccio, chairwoman of the Southington library board, about a recent meeting in which people were talking about the library.

Southington is in a tough spot, through no fault of its own, really. Voters approved expanding the library at a referendum last November, a great move by a savvy electorate that recognized the need to update a library from the 1970s that doesn’t have the things libraries need to have these days, like handicap accessibility.

But as we have learned particularly in the last few years, one moment changes into the next and after a while they seem to have less and less to do with one another. At the start of the pandemic we were obsessing about washing our hands, for instance.

In the case of the Southington library, the $17 million approved by voters is not going to cut it. It was enough money then, in the ancient days of November 2021, but the nearly 30,000 square feet of library space that seemed not a problem is no longer in reach. Now, as Jesse Buchanan has been reporting for the Record-Journal, it’s down to about 24,000 square feet.

That must be painful, particularly for the enthusiasts who understand how well a library can serve a town. It still can, but the work to get there has gotten a lot harder thanks to inflation and construction costs and … well, you know what’s going on.

I’ve been thinking about this and I don’t know what to do. There’s some worry over the $1 million grant money from the State Library Board, as in whether any significant change will risk it, but the greater question involves whether to go back to voters.

There’s some support for another referendum, but there’s something about that that sounds like asking a ref if you’ve really scored a touchdown after you’ve scored one.

People can take a jaded perspective when it comes to politics, but in the recent R-J story two candidates were offering good observations. Chris Poulos, a library board member who is the Democratic candidate in the 81st House District race, was talking about a public hearing “in an effort to ensure transparency.” Opponent Republican Tony Morrison, a member of the finance board, said “the one option we don’t have right now is to raise taxes because of inflation.” Hard not to agree with either point.

Let’s hope the upcoming election helps focus the situation. With difficult issues you need all the help you can get, and this is an important one.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at jkurz@record-journal.com.






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