Diane Gaites

Posted on 17 December 2009

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The Sag Harbor Middle School teacher and North Haven resident talks about how it feels to step down from the John Jermain Memorial Library Board of Trustees after 15 years of service.

Does having your term end right after a successful referendum to restore and expand JJML give you a sense of accomplishment?

It obviously does and I just think it is a good time to leave because one of my original intentions in joining the board was to help bring about a successful referendum. We achieved that and I think it is time for other people to step onto the board and bring some fresh eyes to it.

I was the person who represented a historic connection – a connection between the old board and the new board and I always believe it is time for new people to come on board. Everyone comes to the board with a new idea. Sometimes, I think, when you are on a board for so long you can almost have blinders on, thinking, how could you think to do something different.

John Jermain Memorial Library Director Catherine Creedon says you have a historic, institutional memory about this library. Why is that?

Probably because of the people I served with when I first came onto the board with Jim Ash and Jimmy Lattanzio, Gail Ratcliffe – those people were so good at keeping me abreast of the library and its functions. They had just finished the downstairs expansion, so they had gone through getting variances, having discussions with the village. I always look at them as giving us a solid foundation.

Since then, it is probably because of my longevity; and because of how I used the library — knowing how my own kids enjoyed it before I joined the board.

I think when the referendum failed the first time it made me see the library in another light, not just as a building, not just as a library, but as the center of our community. Sometimes you need a splash of cold water in the face to recognize that this means a lot of different things to a lot of different people in a lot of different ways.


How did you first become involved with the library?

It’s a funny story. Not that it is not an honor to serve, but in those days when people were asked to serve, a lot of the times its was people calling around asking if you had a free night a week to spare. Gail Ratcliffe called me. A couple of other mothers and myself had reinstated the summer reading program here, so she knew my connection to the library.

There have been good times, some upsetting times, but the progress I have seen the library make in becoming the hub of the community has been because of a lot of the people who came before me and will continue to progress after I am gone.

In your view, what does the ideal library offer a community in this day and age?

For this day and age, with what is going on, I think the biggest thing is probably just providing a place of refuge, a place you can feel comfortable, a place where you do not have to spend money to learn and to interact with people. That is especially true here, as the programming has really evolved to suit the community’s needs. It is a more open place. People are so comfortable just coming inside. I think before, people did not realize how much the library had to offer and could offer. Before I came onto the board, the library had kind of slip-shod hours – it would open at 10 a.m. one day, noon the next, sometimes it was closed on Saturdays. But that really has changed. Gradually we finally put in Sunday hours, which I was thrilled with. Working at the school you realize the kids need that. We extended Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday hours until 7 p.m. when we used to close at 5 p.m. The programming has also gotten better and the relationship with the Friends [of the John Jermain Memorial Library] – they are so valuable to us, and have done a lot, especially for our children’s programming.

As a resident, do you intend to remain involved with JJML as it goes through its approval process with the Village of Sag Harbor?

I would hope so. I am sure there will be a little break where I sigh and say, wow, it is the third Wednesday of the month [when they hold library board meetings] and I have nowhere to go. If there is not direct involvement, I am sure at least I will be knocking on Cathy’s [Creedon] door. I wouldn’t want to be a hypocrite either. Here I have been at board meetings telling the public they have to get to meetings so the village knows how important a project this is and you have put that in print, so I will kind of be forced to do it.

I want to stay involved, not to say, ‘hey, why are you doing it this way,’ but more to appreciate the work the trustees are doing and give them the credit, because like I said earlier, I think it is always good to bring fresh perspective to something like this.

What do you see as the library’s strengths and weakness?

Definitely a strength is our director, Cathy Creedon and our great Friends [of the John Jermain Memorial Library]. They are just so helpful and supportive of us. The staff is great. They are more than willing to bend backwards for the patrons, and are so flexible when Cathy wants to move something around. And this building is a haven. A weakness, on the other hand, is this building could offer a lot more, or at least provide a space where programming can be explored further. It would be good for the staff, who have worked so hard for so long, to have a space where they can relax.

There are so many pluses to the library and to the physical building itself; so while it can be a minus, this staff and Cathy have taken the best of it and turned it into a really positive place.

Will you miss being on the board?

I think so. I have made some good friendships. I think it has helped me get along with people and appreciate people for what they bring to the table and not be so cynical about things. Sometimes you start relationships with someone on the board and your ideas are opposed; but when people do talk, eventually you come to respect each other’s opinions and ideas and you learn they are not as far apart as you first think they are.

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