Westerlo library chugging along after director resigns

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Debbie Scott shelves a book on one of her first days as Westerlo’s library director. She resigned this month.

WESTERLO — Despite grappling with a pandemic, uncertain finances, and now the resignation of its former director, Debbie Scott, the Westerlo Public Library is doing “pretty well,” says Board of Trustees President Maureen Sikule. 

“We’re doing curbside pickup right now,” Sikule told The Enterprise, “so people can request books and we put them out for pickup. In November we stopped doing in-person visits to the library. We had been doing them for a while — very limited, by appointment only — but when COVID numbers started to spike we  went to porch pickup only.”

To further adapt to the new landscape wrought by the pandemic, the library has ramped up its remote programming to include, for the youth, construction kits and a partnership with Discover Dairy, an agriculture-based educational service; for adults, the library offers a book club and spice-of-the-month kits.

“We’ve also expanded our e-content offerings,” Sikule said, “so we have 24/7 Wi-Fi and you can see sometimes people out in the parking lot doing downloads and things like that, and we offer Overdrive, which was always offered through Upper Hudson,” she said of the regional Upper Hudson Library System, “and we’ve expanded to Hoopla as well.” 

Sikule said that physical borrowing has become less popular since the pandemic began locally in March, but digital borrowing, done through Overdrive and Hoopla, has gone up. 

The library was fortunate to have the roughly $110,500 budget it presented to the town board earlier this year — down from $112,000 — accepted into the town’s final budget, rather than accommodate cuts handed down by the board.

Worried about sharp declines in sales-tax revenues, Westerlo Supervisor Bill Bichteman had been more aggressive than supervisors in the neighboring Hilltowns in seeking cuts, and in May had temporarily furloughed the library’s staff, though they were receiving pay for work they were doing remotely. All three part-time staffers are still with the library.

“There’s still a need for staff to provide all the remote services,” Sikule said, adding that she thinks the community “recognizes the value of the services that the town is offering.” 

“In order to keep the community engaged, it’s kind of a group effort,” said Sikule.

The library is still down a director, though, after Scott resigned earlier this month. Scott could not be reached for comment on her resignation. Sikule said she couldn’t provide a definitive answer as to why Scott resigned after holding the post for a year and a half.

In the meantime, the board of trustees has established a search committee to find a new director — “hopefully quickly,” Sikule said.


Scott’s tenure

Scott’s tenure began in August of 2019. She replaced Sue Hoadley who had been at the helm of the Westerlo library for a decade, overseeing an upgrade and building of a community room in the library building, which had once been a general store.

Scott had formerly worked as a librarian at Veeder Elementary School in Colonie.

At Westerlo, Scott bolstered outreach efforts, Sikule said, though some initiatives, like hooking up caregivers with adults in need, were thwarted by the pandemic.

“We encountered some problems with that because it was a physical service,” Sikule said. 

After the pandemic hit — Albany County’s first cases were reported in March — Scott had to work to adapt the library to the constantly changing information regarding COVID.

“She was the point person for the COVID protocols and kept us up to date on all of the developments because she would meet with all the different library directors and figure out what’s working and what’s not working,” Sikule said. “I think she did a good job of bringing us through.” 

Scott kept library patrons updated through a regular column in The Enterprise. For example, in May she wrote: “The staff and I continue to add safe ways to serve you during the closure due to COVID-19. This week, we will have Technology Call-In Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon ….

“Many of you may have received the library’s first Connections and Collections newsletter through email. This is a new way for the library to reach out and communicate with you.”

She went on to describe “fun activities” provided by the library online. Over 100 packets were distributed to kids, story times went virtual and so did an egg hunt. Book pages were posted outdoors so patrons could enjoy a StoryWalk, and donated books were given to elderly residents through the meal-delivery service run by the Hilltowns Community Resource Center.

And, Scott urged patience, writing, “I know it is difficult not having the library open during this time of social distancing. The staff and I miss you all and look forward to when we can see you again. Right now, we need to be patient and do what is best for all our health and safety.”

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