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EDITORIAL:Library move makes sense

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PITY OUR SHRIVELED SOULS. Newspaper editors wallow in so much bad news and misfortune that it feels sometimes like we wouldn’t know good news if it bit us. But I feel the tooth marks of a positive story brewing in the City of Hudson.

The Hudson Library, officially known as the Hudson Area Association Library is going to move. And unlike some other recently announced plans to move public services (Sorry! Think positive, think pos…), this move and the way it’s being handled make terrific sense. Within the next few weeks the library board expects to announce both the sale of the building the library currently occupies and the lease of a new space in the city. But the new space isn’t intended to be a permanent home, just an “interim step” for the next five years or so while the library board plans for a new, long-term home.

For more than half a century the Hudson Library has occupied 400 State Street. That structure has distorted the function of the library. The building is historically significant and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In turns it was a home for the poor, a school for girls, an insane asylum, a private residence and an orphanage. None of those uses, as important as they were for the growth of the city, made the place appropriate for the types of services modern library users need and want.

This stone building at the north end of 4th Street, which looks so imposing from the outside, has warrens of rooms too small for convenient shelving of materials; its stairways and halls are narrow; navigating the usable area — less than half the total floor space  — proves confusing and creepy. The stairs pose insurmountable barriers to people with handicaps. Experts have found asbestos, mold and rotting timbers. Resources that would have improved programs and the collection went instead to stopgap repairs.

Finally, a new, more vigorous library board has voted unanimously to do something about it. Someone, not yet identified by the board, approached them about buying the place. Being fair-minded and careful people who handle public funds, the board then placed the building on the market this spring to see whether anyone else was interested. The library’s website lists the asking price as $450,000. No one else stepped forward, and negotiations are now in process to conclude the sale.

Where will the library go? The board could have bought some oversized, empty commercial building recently vacated by a big box store on, say, Fairview Avenue in Greenport. But it didn’t. Instead it developed a plan, figured out what space it actually needed and brought in outside experts to critique its ideas and the spaces under consideration.

And the library board had another criterion. It wanted to remain in Hudson. The library’s charter from the state calls for it to serve Greenport and Stockport as well as the city, but as Mark Orton, the library’s vice president put it, “Hudson is our core service area and the core of our funding comes from Hudson.” He could not yet say where it will be, but he confirmed that the library has looked at a space on lower Warren Street and would like to be on the city’s main thoroughfare.

Mr. Orton also said that the library wants a space that can be fully accessible to all users and one that’s flexible enough to adapt to the services that the public wants from its library.

The library board assumes it will need about five years to find a site for a permanent home and to raise the money to build it. I hope it can be accomplished that quickly, but given the experience of the Roe Jan Community Library, which just moved in to its new, exceptionally efficiency building that boasts one of the most inviting public spaces anywhere in the region, that could happen in Hudson too.

The approach taken so far by the Hudson Area Association Library Board suggests that the city could have a remarkable library where all the people who want to use it can use all the services it offers. It’s not the speed and decisiveness of their actions that distinguishes this project. It is the responsiveness of the board to the needs of the public that stands out. In breaking with the past, they have done community a great service and freed this essential institution to prepare for the future.

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