Five Guilderland library trustee candidates run for three seats

GUILDERLAND — After many years without a contested race, this May 21st, five candidates are vying for three seats on the Guilderland Public Library Board of Trustees. Two are incumbents — Barbara Fraterrigo and Barry Nelson — and three are newcomers: Catherine Barber, Mark Keeling, and Philip Metzger.

The posts are at-large and unpaid. The board has 11 members, each serving a five-year term.

All five candidates were asked about their backgrounds, their reasons for running, and their favorite book, as well as about several issues:

— Function: In the past, public libraries primarily lent books. Now they lend ebooks, CDs, and DVDs and provide all sorts of other objects, instruction, and even entertainment. What is the most important role in the community that the Guilderland Public Library fills? Should it be doing anything differently?

— Patrons: The Guilderland library offers services geared to immigrants, people with health problems, babies and children, people who don’t have computers, and many more. Of all the many different types of library users, is there any group that seems most underserved? What would you do to address that?

— Capital project: In June 2012, a $13 million project that would have updated the library and nearly doubled its size was ​defeated​, 3 to 1, by about a quarter of Guilderland’s 22,000 registered voters. This year, the library has proposed a smaller project that would update the library and expand its size by about a quarter, for $8 million. Do you support the bond issue, and why or why not?


Catherine Barber

Catherine Barber has not been on the library board before, but she spent 12 years serving on the school board.

“I spent 12 years on the school board, so I’m familiar with how to be on a board in general,” she said. She has been a frequent patron of the library, she said, “especially when my children were young.”

Barber is married to the town’s supervisor, Peter Barber. They live on Greenwood Drive. Both of their children are young adults.

Barber’s mother is a former librarian, so Barber grew up around libraries. “I’m very familiar with libraries, and this library in particular,” she said.

Barber, 54, an attorney and musician, said she thinks the bulk of Guilderland’s collection is still physical books, but she thinks it’s interesting patrons can also borrow fishing poles and get fishing licenses there.

“I think that’s nice. The library has really become a community center,” she said. She’s a physical-book person, Barber said, but someone else may want to get a fishing pole or another object from the Library of Things, or use a computer, or “just a quiet place to read books or a magazine.”

The programs offered have increased tremendously, she said, and the library has become a “gathering space for community to use a room or hold concerts, or offer children’s programs, and it seems like it’s really increased over the years.” She called the library “a space for everyone.”

The question of which group of patrons is underserved, she said, is linked to the capital project. “Because for example,” she said, “their teen space — I understand they only have seven seats right now for teens, and part of the expansion is a significant expansion of children’s space and also space for teens.”

It’s nice to have a dedicated space for teens, she said, “because you want to encourage kids to read as they get older.”

She said that her own children, when they were younger, would have loved to see a café in the library. They always wanted to buy a hot chocolate from the machine at the library, she said.

Barber supports the bond project, and thinks it’s “great” to expand the children’s and teen spaces. The bond project would also provide more space, including study rooms, for patrons and staff to use, she said.

The community’s needs are very different now than they were in 1992, she said, referencing the year the library was built. “They’ve expanded; there’s been a large increase in patrons and the number of programs.”

She thinks a café “would be a very nice thing to have in your community space,” as would an outdoor seating at the front of the library.

For her favorite book, she chose a trilogy, the “Lord of the Rings” books by J. R. R. Tolkien, which she said she has always loved.

Her mother always told her not to buy books, she said, but to borrow them instead. “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first volume in the series, was the first book she ever bought, she said, at her college bookstore, when she was about 18. “I remember feeling guilty,” she added.

Mark Keeling

Mark Keeling, 47, would bring 18 years of experience in a corporate environment to the library board, he said; he is now a vice president of a national insurance company. He also has 14 years of military leadership experience, he said, and is a noncommissioned officer in the United States Army.

Keeling, who lives on Siver Road, sees the library’s most important role as being a place for families to go, “to get out of the house sometimes for younger kids, teenagers as well.” Parents sometimes ask themselves, he said, where they can go “besides the mall.”

He called the library “a place that is very constructive and provides things we want to provide our kids, in a more structured environment, such as reading, and different books to read.”

He does not believe that anything should be changed drastically about the library. In some ways, he said, the public has gotten away from the library system, with the popularity of the internet.

By offering objects that cannot be gotten online — he named museum passes, fishing poles, and E-Z passes as examples — the library draws people back in, he said.

He has not yet “dug into that much to see what community is most underserved,” he said, adding, “I guess, if we did find a community that is most underserved, it’s what could we do to get that community into the library — speaking to that community to find out some of their needs and see if we could tailor programs for their needs.”

Keeling supports the bond issue, he said. The space that it adds, he said, will give children and teenagers “a place to be.” Adding parking spots will make the parking lot safer, as will moving the book drops to safer places.

And adding a café, he said, will draw people in and give them a place to “spend time with friends and enjoy books, and meet people,” while also giving the library more traffic and more exposure.

He compared it to Barnes & Noble and the rise of coffee shops selling Starbucks coffee within the chain’s bookstores. “People could grab a coffee and sit and read.”

Keeling’s favorite book, he said, is “usually the one I’m reading now, and I’m reading a book by an author called John Fenzel, ‘The Sterling Forest.’ I usually get lost in them, and I’m into the one I’m reading now,” he said.

Philip Metzger

Philip Metzger, 44, has been working at the same company — R. R. Donnelly, which he said helps businesses communicate with customers — for about 20 years. During that time, he has “gotten fairly proficient in bringing different groups together and integrating teams to work on projects,” he said.

His wife, Melanie Metzger, has worked in libraries for about 20 years, and is currently the assistant director of the Albany Public Library. Through his discussions with her over the years, he said, he has become very familiar with the challenges libraries face.

Libraries have evolved away from lending books for a long time, said Metzger, who lives on Benjamin Street. Libraries’ real function now, he said, is “to be that community center — providing services that maybe not everybody can afford or find.”

The library is the hub of the community, and “that place you go when you need anything,” Metzger said. Since the needs of a community are always changing, one of the challenges for a library is to figure out what those needs are, he said, and address them as efficiently as possible, “because you can’t do everything at once.”

Metzger said he does not have the experience at the library to know which group of library users is most underserved, and he hopes that Director Timothy Wiles has a good answer to that question; if not, he said, the board can conduct surveys and do research.

“The needs of the community are always changing, and it’s the job of the library to understand what those needs are and try to answer them,” Metzger said.

Metzger “absolutely” supports the bond issue. “It contains provisions related to safety that need to be addressed, as well as accessibility.” He continued, “Beyond that, it’s clear that the story-time rooms for children are not large enough for the crowds that they draw. Expanding the children’s room and the other sections of the library and even adding a café are, he said, “great ideas for expanding the capabilities of the library and drawing more people in.”

“Hyperion” by Dan Simmons is his favorite book, Metzger said. “It’s about everything. It’s a big space opera that takes place over four books with way too many pages,” he said. “I just love eating that whole thing up and living in all those worlds.”


Barry Nelson

Barry Nelson, 66, has served on the board for a year, after being elected to fill out the term of a trustee who resigned. Nelson said he believes he has contributed significantly during that year.

His other experience, he said, includes 15 years as an associate budget analyst with the state of New York and almost 15 years as a treasurer of the Westmere Fire Department; all of that, he said, has helped him to contribute to the library’s budget or financing, including by raising questions or concerns.

During his last 15 years with the state before retirement, he was a health and safety officer, and he has volunteered as a firefighter for 31 years, Nelson said. These experiences helped prepare him for discussions of safety improvements in the library such as installing a sprinkler system throughout the building “to protect both the books and, more importantly, the people who are there,” he said, or the need to reconfigure the parking lot for greater safety.  

“It’s a great library, probably one of if not the best library in the area,” Nelson said. “I think I have contributed to maintaining that. I would like the opportunity to continue to contribute to keeping the library excellent and perhaps making it even better.”

Nelson, who lives on Velina Drive, said that the library’s most important role is to be a “public voice of the community.” It has evolved into that, he said, “thanks to the excellent staff there and the excellent leadership of the director, Tim WIles.”

The library is a lot more than books, he said: It lends out games for kids and adults, fishing equipment, tables, and all kinds of electronic devices; it’s one of the few places in town where groups can meet; and it provides computer access for those who don’t have it. Use of the library has risen each year, he said, even as “people predicted the demise of libraries.”

The most underserved population right now is probably teenagers, he said. The library offers a lot of activities for children and adults, but not as many for teens. He said, “I know things are being worked on to increase the space available for teen users, as well as programs for teens.” Even if the capital project is defeated, he said, he thinks that there is a contingency plan to increase programs for teenagers.

He “definitely” supports the bond issue. “I voted for it; the board voted unanimously for it.” There is a need for more spaces, he said, for teenage library users, and for meeting rooms, which he said are “always filled.”

In addition, has to be improved, which the capital project would do by installing a sprinkler system and by reconfiguring the parking lot and making additional spaces available.

“The bond voted down several years ago was quite extravagant, shall we say. I wasn’t involved in it then. This one is much more reasonable.”

The library is the focal point of the community, Nelson said, “and we need to invest in it.”

Nelson’s favorite book is not one, but three: the original “Foundation Trilogy” by Isaac Asimov, which he reads every year and read to his son when his son was a baby and as he was growing up.

The message of the book, he said, is that “mankind’s future is hopeful.”

Barbara Fraterrigo

Barbara Fraterrigo has served on the library board since before the current building was built. Starting in 1988, she was “involved on the ground floor,” she said, “of actively planning to get it on the ballot for the library to become a school-district library, so that the people of the town would have a direct influence on the type of library they wanted.”

Making it into a school-district library, she said, meant that town residents could vote on the budget and “determine the level of library services they desire.”

The library is “an absolute treasure for our community,” said Fraterrigo, who lives on Ableman Avenue.

When her own children were in school decades ago, she said, they would have to go to Albany or Bethlehem to use those libraries whenever they had school projects to do, “because our resources were so limited.” But now, Fraterrigo said, Guilderland matches or exceeds the services and benefits of any public library.

The Guilderland Public Library, she said, is “in the forefront of servicing the public.” She listed the Library of Things, saying that Guilderland was the first to offer fishing poles, and lends out many items including folding tables and “birthday kits for parents on the go.” The library’s programs are flourishing, she said, including programs for young and old, as are concerts.

It isn’t just books, she said. The library is “a place for people to meet and grow in their knowledge of various subjects.”

Fraterrigo, 76, said she thinks the library does a phenomenal job “of serving anyone that has shown any need whatever.” The Guilderland library was the first suburban library to collaborate with Literacy Volunteers to offer English lessons. When the program started at the library, she said, 100 immigrants were in need of lessons; the library recruited over 70 volunteer tutors, trained them, and linked them up with those in need. The program continues today, she said, and the library also hosts many programs and discussion groups for the immigrant community. The library has an extensive collection of foreign-language books encompassing many languages, she said.

For the senior community, she said, the library offers home delivery for the homebound, programs on health and retirement, discussion groups, and tax preparation.

The bond proposal is addressing the need for more space for children and teens, she said. “Story times are just overwhelmed, and we have to move into the larger room,” she said of the current situation.

“When you see these little tykes being introduced to books and a life of literature, it’s very gratifying, and you hope to continue in that vein,” she said.

The library’s current director and board are “very open to new ideas,” Fraterrigo said, adding that this is evidenced by the expansion in programming over the last few years.

She hopes that this bond project — which she called modest and certainly necessary — will “pass with flying colors.” The bond is meant to serve a need “that is very, very evident in the library community,” she said.

Her favorite book is “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. ‘I just have always loved that one,” she said. “It catches an era, and brought about, in its own way, an awareness of the injustices that were occurring.”

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