Guest columnist Farah Ameen: Why I’m running for Jones Library trustee

  • Farah Ameen

Thursday, September 16, 2021

When my daughter was 6, she set up a lemonade stand in our front yard to raise money for a new teen space at Jones Library; the following Saturday, she brought her stand to the farmers market on the Amherst Town Common. She raised $180, which she handed over to the children’s department at the Jones.

I was counting on my now sixth grader and her friends having that teen space — in a new Jones Library building — when they start middle school. Since recent roadblocks from dissenting voices in our town have made that impossible, I want to make sure that my child and her peers have that safe place to hang out during their high school years.

I am running for a seat on the Jones Library board of trustees because I believe our library is an essential space that can offer so much more to our diverse communities once the much-needed upgrade plan is completed.

My husband and I moved to Amherst with our 19-month-old child in 2010 because we wanted to raise her in a town we envisioned would welcome our biracial family. We love most things about Amherst: the public schools, the vast green spaces, hiking trails, small businesses, politically conscious people, child-friendly neighborhoods, the energy college students bring to the town — and especially the community that Jones Library fosters.

Growing up in India, I wasn’t exposed to libraries like the Jones, which offers myriad services to families, like ESL instruction, computer and internet access, book and chess clubs, a children’s room, and Sing With Your Baby sessions. Jones was where I made my first “mom friends.” From the beginning, the librarians were welcoming, and soon knew my family by name.

Sometimes I was able to leave my extremely active toddler for a few minutes in the children’s room while I quickly checked out books in the adult section. But the layout of the library doesn’t allow parents to browse while simultaneously keeping an eye on their young kids. Still, I felt immense gratitude for this safe space.

I soon met other South Asians, some of whom were taking advantage of the ESL program. My husband became a trustee, and as I gained more information about the library, I realized that for all its charm, many aspects of the physical space are simply inadequate. The more I learned about the proposed library upgrade plan and the millions of dollars in state aid available to help implement it, the more convinced I became that this was clearly the right path to take. Yet here we are almost 10 years later with plans still up in the air, and dissenters standing in the way of crucial progress.

I love the Jones, but we can no longer ignore that it’s not ADA compliant; it has far too large a fossil fuel footprint; the dank, poorly lit corner of the basement currently designated as “teen space” is totally inappropriate and potentially unsafe; our special collections facility is inadequate; and the atrium has not only become a water hazard, but also obstructs what would otherwise be free-flowing open space on the second and third floors.

During the early COVID days, Jones was a lifesaver for our book-loving preteen, with its outdoor pickup system and helpful staff. The library serves our community in such far-reaching ways — but it hasn’t reached its full potential. The Jones Library building project will create a sustainable and resilient building, which meets 21st century expectations of a library’s place in the community. It will be green, fully accessible, offer an expanded children’s room and an open-plan teen space, more computers, and larger areas to hold ESL conversation circles for our non–English speaking immigrant residents.

I am grateful for the decades of trustees who have volunteered their precious time to support the Jones. But this is a prescient moment in our town, a time for change — we need more representation, a trustee with a different worldview. I come from Bangladesh, a country where it would be unthinkable to refuse state funds to improve public services. Why deepen the vast gap between the haves and have-nots? Why deny our immigrant neighbors a comfortable space for ESL classes instead of having them bunch around a water cooler by the side entrance?

I want to work with our incumbent trustees to see the Jones Library building project through. We all know it takes a village to raise a child, and that village needs a welcoming place to gather. I strongly believe Jones Library is that crucial center for so many in our community. It has been for my family. I hope you’ll vote for me and vote “Yes” for the library on Nov. 2.

Farah Ameen lives in Amherst.