Two incumbents and a newcomer run for Guilderland library board

GUILDERLAND — The Guilderland Public Library was rocked by accusations of racism in February leveled by owners of its first-ever café, which abruptly closed.

Nevertheless, two library board incumbents — Barbara Fraterrigo and Michael Hawrylchak — are staying the course and seeking re-election on May 21 while a third candidate, Michael Puspurs, was partly inspired to run because of the allegations.

All three will be elected but the candidates with the most votes will serve the longest terms; the posts are unpaid.

The 11-member board has reduced itself to nine members going forward.

One trustee, Ted Gup, resigned in the wake of the café owners’ allegations. Gup, a journalist, referred to a lack of transparency and accountability on the board among his reasons for resigning. In his March 12 letter of resignation, Gup cited a breakdown of communication on matters including “the awarding of contracts, the vetting of prospective contractors, the willingness to robustly investigate those matters.”

Another trustee, Vanessa Threatte, had her resignation, effective May 17, accepted by the trustees at their last meeting. Threatte, who works as executive director of the New York State Council on Children and Families, said when she ran in 2021, “I feel very strongly about issues of access, diversity of experience and voice (not only honoring it but learning from it). I can’t think of a better place than the library to have an impact in those areas.”

She said, too, she wanted to offer her “perspective and experience as a Black woman, parent, educator, reading specialist, helping professional, artist, student, operations leader, and avid DIY-er.”

On May 21, voters will also be deciding on a $4.4 million budget for next year.

 

 

 

Michael Puspurs

GUILDERLAND — Michael Puspurs is running to be on the Guilderland Library Board for deeply personal reasons.

His first job after he graduated from the University at Albany with an undergraduate degree in English and a master’s degree in library information was as a librarian at North Albany Academy in the Albany City School District.

“The library had no scanner and they had no books,” he said. Since the scanner to check out books was broken, the books had simply disappeared, he said.

“I helped refill the library,” said Puspurs. “I got donations; I got grants and we got all the materials and got the library back up to where it should be.”

More than that, while he worked in inner-city schools, Puspurs said, “A lot of the teachers would say [of the students], ‘They’re going to be criminals and they’re going to be in gangs and they’re going to end up in prison.’

“And I would fight against things like that. I would have the kids stay at my library after school and I would help them with their homework. And some of them were like, ‘I didn’t join a gang because I went to your library and I hung out with you and did my homework.’”

Puspurs made the library a “safe place” where students could work to succeed in school “and not be out doing something bad,” he said.

Puspurs didn’t like what he heard about the Café con Mel closing, the charges of racism leveled by the café’s owners, and said, “I wanted to make sure that the library was being a place that’s welcoming to everyone. There shouldn’t be any kind of discrimination.”

He was also inspired to pursue the trustee post, he said, to honor Dakota Matacchiero. She had been his fiancée. She died three years ago of cancer at the age of 34.

“I’m kind of doing this for her, too, because she loved kids and she loved helping kids and she loved reading and so do I,” he said.

When Puspurs posed for his candidate picture, he wore a T-shirt she had given him; it says, “Librarian: The original search engine.”

Puspurs grew up in Westerlo until the fifth grade when his parents divorced. He moved to Guilderland then and went to Westmere Elementary, followed by Farnsworth Middle School, finally graduating from the public high school.

At Farnsworth Middle School, he said, “I met the librarians that inspired me to be a librarian.”

Mary Jeanne Dicker and Sheila DiMaggio not only inspired him in middle school but, when Puspurs needed to do student teaching as a UAlbany student, he returned to Farnsworth.

“They were there again,” he said of Dicker and DiMaggio. “They approved me to be a librarian.”

Puspurs had a series of jobs including a stint as a librarian at Voorheesville Elementary School. “I got voted best teacher by the fifth-grade class,” he said.

Budget cuts ended his job there, he said, despite “the parents and the kids who went to the school board and tried to fight to keep me.”

Puspurs currently works for the State Education Department, licensing dentists, optometrists, and chiropractors, he said. He travels for his job and “goes to board meetings for those professions,” he said.

“That’s given me experience that I’m going to use as a trustee,” said Puspurs.

He still misses teaching kids, though, so he regularly reads to the children in a daycare center at the State Education Department.

Puspurs plans to start a book group at the Guilderland Public Library “where we read diverse books,” he said. “I really want to make sure that diversity, that issue, is addressed,” Puspurs said.

He wishes the library had “tried to work it out with the café” and also that there was “a more open investigation.”

The library board has hired Guidepost Solutions for $15,000 to investigate the allegations of racism.

“It could have been handled more transparently …,” said Puspurs. “Everything should be diverse and open … There shouldn’t be any discrimination going on.”

Going forward, Puspurs thinks the board should try to have a café. “Books and coffee go so well together,” he said, noting that “many libraries don’t have that” and it attracts patrons.

Asked about the central mission of a public library, Puspurs said, “It’s a place for the whole community … a place where everyone should be able to go for whatever needs they need.”

A library is “the heart of the community,” he said, adding, “but it gives you the resources to go outside and do other things.”

Puspurs has recently read a book of poetry called “All the Fighting Parts” by Hannah V. Sawyerr, that has inspired him, he said.

“It’s about a girl that helps at a church and one of the priests rapes her … but it really shows how she fights back and takes control of her life,” he said.

Puspurs went on, “I just love young-adult books … I like books where someone is fighting back against an injustice. I’m very into doing those kinds of things in my life, too.”

Asked for an example, he said, “All my life, as a diabetic, I’ve dealt with people saying, ‘You can’t work, you can’t do this activity, you can’t be in sports ….’”

Nevertheless, he has done those things.

 

 

 

Barbara Fraterrigo

GUILDERLAND — When Barbara Fraterrigo was a kid growing up in rural Massachusetts, the highlight of her week was going to the public library.

“We didn’t have much in the way of culture or whatever,” she said. “But we had a library, a local library. And I would ride my bike to the library at least once a week and that was a big adventure for a young kid.

“I’ve just always had a love of libraries and learning and books and all the adventures and questions that books can answer for a person … Education has always been something that I’ve sought and I wanted to be a lifelong learner, and I think I’ve succeeded pretty well.”

Fraterrigo has been a trustee since the Guilderland library had an elected board, helping with the move to make the free library into a public library, giving it the power to tax. Fraterrigo was first elected in 1988 and has been a trustee ever since.

She graduated from Emmanuel College in Boston with a major in chemistry and biology and a minor in teaching. She taught pre-med students embryology at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. 

It was there that she met her husband, Philip, a doctor. In 1972, they moved to Guilderland where they raised their five children, now grown. Fraterrigo has worked in her husband’s office.

“We’ve lived here for over 50 years and have five children we are very proud of, many of whom are still in the area,” she said. “And so Grandma and Grandpa are very, very busy with 16 grandkids and enjoying every minute of it.”

Asked what she is most proud of during her years on the library board, Fraterrigo said “supporting the staff and getting so many programs with out-of-the box thinking on the part of the staff … encouraging the staff to be inventive and just marvelous. I think we have one of the premier libraries in the Capital District now.”

With a new director, Peter Petruski, starting on May 22, Fraterrigo said, “He’s coming from out of state … It’s sort of nice to have some people that have been around a while to … reach out to for help and advice.”

Fraterrigo hopes that the “ruffled feathers between staff and administration and the board”get smoothed with “a new administrative team to take us to greater heights.”

She described Petruski, who currently works as collections chief for the Arlington Public Library in Virginia, as “very enthusiastic.” Fraterrigo said, “He’s just dying to get started. And I just have great hope for him and the library … just letting the staff fly with their ideas.”

Asked about the abrupt closure in February of the library’s first café, Fraterrigo said, “As we dig into things, there are definitely things that the administration — and I would say mainly the administration but the board as well — could have done differently …

“The major factor, as some of our fellow citizens have brought out, was the vetting process. The café was something that the community had really wanted and when we didn’t get any bidders for the first RFP that we sent out and then Melanie [Diaz Partak, owner of the Café con Mel] said she was interested, we sort of said, ‘This is great; we finally have somebody that will take this on.’”

Fraterrigo concluded, “There was really no vetting of her business abilities. I would say, ‘Live and learn.’”

She also called trustee Ted Gup’s resignation in the wake of the café’s closing “a tragedy.”

Asked if the library should have a café going forward, Fraterrigo said she would support that if another person were willing to take it on, perhaps with a less extensive menu.

She said a new café operator should have a more extensive staff, noting that the Café con Mel was often closed unexpectedly. 

“There wasn’t even a sign on the door saying, ‘We’ve had a family emergency’ or something to notify the public,” she said.

Fraterrigo concluded of the library having a café, “Many people really appreciated the convenience … It’s worth another try.”

Asked about the central mission of the library, Fraterrigo said, “I think that the central mission is providing access to information, and the tools to access that information.”

She also said, “The library can be sort of the focal point for the town’s activities and bringing people together.” She cited the children’s area as a place where toddlers and their mothers could meet one another.

Fraterrigo also mentioned the usefulness of the Library of Things. “Who wants to have seven- or eight-foot tables stored in their basement when they use them maybe once every five years for a graduation or something?” she asked

Finally, the Enterprise asks trustee candidates the perennial question of their favorite book.

When Fraterrigo ran for the board a decade ago, she said her all-time favorite book is Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “It captured the whole era and brought forth a lot of discussion,” Fraterrigo said then.

This week, Fraterrigo said she has been recently taken with “Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker,” an historical novel by Jennifer Chiavirini that details the years Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, who was born a slave, worked at the White House as Mary Todd Lincoln dressmaker and confidante.

“It was just a fabulous read,” said Fraterrigo. “It brought out the humanity of Lincoln and what he stood for, what he tried to do, and the tragedies he and his wife faced.”

 

 

 

Michael Hawrylchak

GUILDERLAND — Michael Hawrylchak, who was elected as a library trustee in 2021, says one of his priorities has been “our processes for budget development and long-term financial planning.”

Gradually and especially recently, Hawrylchak said, good progress has been made in “changing some of our budgeting processes … but I think there’s still work to be done.”

One of his reasons for running again, he said, is “I want to try and keep pushing that forward.”

Hawrylchak and his wife have four children “from elementary school up to high school age,” he said. “For all of us, the library has always been just an important part of our life.”

The Hawrylchaks rely on the Guilderland Public Library for books as well as library programs, he said.

Hawrylchak himself grew up in Guilderland and his connection with the Guilderland library “goes way back,” he said.

Hawrylchak has a bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a law degree from Harvard.

He formerly clerked for a federal judge and worked as a software engineer and is currently an attorney at O’Connell and Aronowitz.

He first ran for the library board, he said, because he wanted to “be involved in the community” outside of his job.

With the abrupt closure of the library’s first café in February, Hawrylchak was asked if there was anything the library trustees should have done differently. He is on a committee looking into the hiring process while an outside firm has been employed to investigate charges of racism leveled by the owner of the Café con Mel.

“There was a lot of public demand for the café,” said Hawrylchak. “There’s a lot of interest and a lot of desire for the library to have a café. And, since the closure, I have heard people asking: Is it going to reopen?

“It’s something that we should be open to and looking into,” he said. “I do think it’s essential before we launch into it again, that we finish out — which, you know, we’re in the middle of right now — our retrospective …. a look at everything that happened with the café.”

Going forward with a new vendor, Hawrylchak said, “one of the things we would be more cognizant of is just making sure that everyone … all the library staff that are going to have to interact and deal with the café and the new café operators, that everyone is kind of on the same page and understanding how everyone is going to kind of work together in the building and where all the responsibilities lie and just kind of making sure that’s all crystal clear.”

Hawrylchak hopes that one of the things that comes out of the look-back will be guidance to avoid the same mistakes.

He also said that having a café at the library may not be feasible for a small business without the foot traffic of a commercial area with other retail establishments.

“It’s possible that it just might be a challenging location … to have a successful business in that place,” Hawrylchak said.

He concluded, “Every business isn’t a success. And, you know, we can’t guarantee that it will work out in the long run.”

Asked about the central mission of a public library, Hawrylchak said, “It’s something that has changed over time and will continue to change … the core continues to be and probably always will continue to be centered around books whether that is physical books in our collection that people can come and take out or the electronic collection of books.”

In addition to the core, Hawrylchak said, the library is a community gathering place for educational and cultural programs.

“It always just has to respond to the demands of the community, and that’s something the library administration is very cognizant of,” he said.

Library staff, he said, try new offerings to see what is “resonating with the community and that people really want.” He gave as examples the expansion of board games and other family activities, and also the lending of museum passes, which allows people to explore “various cultural opportunities.”

“The idea of the library,” Hawrylchak said, is, “kind of sharing resources. We have all these books. They’re available to people so they … don’t have to buy every single book themselves.”

They might also want to sample other things besides books, he said, like local museums on a day pass from the library rather than buying memberships in a dozen different museums.

One of his goals for the upcoming term, Hawrylchak said, is helping “our brand new director.” Peter Petruski starts in that post on May 22.

Hawrylchak suggested the board could work collaboratively with Petruski “to help kind of set the direction of the library going forward.”

He noted that Petruski has worked in libraries “for some time and is coming into this leadership role.”

While Hawrylchak said that, off the top of his head, he couldn’t name an all-time favorite book, right now he is immersed in reading “The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store,” a 2023 novel by James McBride.

Although the book is hard to summarize, Hawrylchak  said, “It’s telling kind of a historical story … centering around Jewish and African-American communities back in the early 20th Century … following the lives of various people in those communities as they interact.”

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