Community Library Committee Report

III. Background

Public library service in Sag Harbor was present as early as 1806, thanks to the efforts of such community leaders as Ebenezer Sage and Ephraim Byram. By 1887 the Sag Harbor Library Association boasted of over 2,000 books available for borrowing. Throughout this early period the “library” was located in numerous homes, businesses and churches. However, by the early 1900’s, the lack of a permanent home resulted in a hiatus in library service, and books were placed in storage.

The second century of library service in Sag Harbor truly began on October 10, 1910, when Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage checked out the first book from the John Jermain Memorial Library, the building and institution she gave to the community and dedicated to the memory of her grandfather. The John Jermain Memorial Library building is one of the region’s most distinctive public buildings. A remarkable and important facility when it was built a century ago, the building continues to be inspirational today. In addition to presenting the community with a magnificent building, well furnished and stocked with books, Mrs. Sage determined that the JJML Trustees should provide “for such lectures, exhibitions, instruction or amusement in connection with the institution as they may deem from time to time desirable.”

Though all acknowledge that Mrs. Sage’s gift to the community is a landmark building, its practical use as a library has been problematic for some time. In 1919, just nine years after it opened, while reviewing the library facility for permanent registration by the State Education Department, Library Extension Specialist Anna G. Hall observed: “Your greatest obstacle to economic administration is your building which, although large and attractive, is badly planned for library purposes. It will always be expensive to heat and light and will certainly need additional book room within a very few years.”

Of course both the community and public library services have come a long way since then. While the population in the JJML’s charter area has grown fivefold and new services abound, it remains in the same facility nearly one hundred years later. Dealing with this challenge has been a major focus for the JJML’s Board and staff for many decades.

In the recent past, several efforts have been made to address the space and accessibility issues. Proposals to expand the building and install an elevator have been discussed repeatedly. In 1985, 1991 and 1994, the ground level was adapted for greater use and increased public services. In 1994, a ramp was built to allow greater access to the facility for those with disabilities.

In 2001, recognizing that the JJML did not meet the minimum standards for public library service specified by the New York State Commissioner of Education, the JJML Board began a thorough process to resolve the need for a library expansion. As a part of this process, in 2002, the JJML Board purchased a piece of property at 425 Main Street, adjacent to the Mashashimuet Park. After reviewing numerous scenarios for the acquisition of property adjacent to the existing building as well as on-site expansion, the JJML Board offered a proposal: a new library building would be built near Mashashimuet Park, and the existing building would be refurbished and an elevator added. This proposal was defeated by the voters of the Sag Harbor School District in a referendum held on December 18, 2004.

In response to this defeat the JJML Board established the Community Library Committee (CLC) in an effort to more fully engage the community in planning for the third century of public library service in Sag Harbor.

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