Guest columnist Debra Jacobson: ‘Let’s start over smart’

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Amherst is about to vote, on Nov. 2, whether or not to support $35.3 million in new borrowing for the expansion of the Jones Library. I would like to address the library’s poorly thought-through rationales for expansion, addressing the three foundational arguments made in defense.

■ Library usage and available library resources. I wonder how many folks in Amherst, or residents in the commonwealth, realize all state residents have free use of the Massachusetts university and college libraries. We Amherst townsfolks may also use the Amherst College library.

The library needs assessment not only omits these rich resources but stretches their user count by including university and college students. I have rarely seen these students in the Jones. Why would they go with convenient access to such excellent resources on their campuses? The library trustees have grossly biased their analysis by including college and university students as among the users while leaving out these students’ own resources.

■Promoting English as a second language. Speaking of untallied resources, school buildings are empty for a substantial portion of weekdays and weekends. ESL is a vital educational activity, one that deserves to be in the schools, available for all who need it, adults and children.

Using school space would have the added benefit of demonstrating to all that education is a lifelong endeavor in developing ourselves. For ESL students who are also parents, moving ESL into the schools would foster a sense of what I hope is true: that schools’ job is to nurture and help all of us to grow. This would be an efficient use of space. More, it would build community.

■Appropriate space for our teenagers. As for a teen center, I think a skateboard park is more to the point. A quiet library space labeled “teen center” seems exactly misguided and doomed to failure, particularly in the planned location in the Jones’ current fiction room where second floor staff can oversee teens down below from their offices.

Developmentally, teens seek their peers’ company with tactful and minimal adult supervision; such socializing is a stepping stone to adult autonomy. Teen socializing involves sound — conversation, music, motion. If someone knows of successful “teen rooms” in quiet libraries, please let me know. For us here, we need to at a minimum include in the plan considerable quality soundproofing.

■The financial context. The town of Amherst has three other major new projects, at least one of which, schools with healthy air, configured to facilitate learning, is long overdue and desperately needed. That is not a place skimp. Clearly, town residents should be surveyed to assess priorities among all four, not seriatim.

Let’s start over smart.

Debra Jacobson is an Amherst resident.