Library Hopes to Grow its Endowment

Posted on 10 February 2012

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For several years now, the focus of the John Jermain Memorial Library’s Board (JJML) of Trustees has been to ensure that the restoration and expansion of the historic Main Street library is fully funded in anticipation of its 2013 opening.

While still dedicated to that effort, the library’s board and its director, Catherine Creedon, are also committed to building upon the endowment first levied by the library’s benefactress Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage. The goal of this effort is to ensure the library is sustainable and presents as little a tax burden as possible on residents for years to come.

During a JJML board of trustees meeting on January 15, board members emphasized their commitment to building the library’s endowment. The board also expressed a commitment to continue fundraising for additional monies beyond $10 million the library received via a public referendum for the expansion and restoration of the over 100-year-old library.

In 2009, voters in the Sag Harbor School District overwhelmingly agreed to spend the $10 million over 20 years towards the project. The expansion — modern in design — will nearly double the size of the building and preserve the history of the original building as well as historical documents specific to Sag Harbor in a new climate controlled history room.

The expansion will also allow the library to expand programming space, dedicate larger spaces to children and young adults, improve technology services and be handicap accessible on all three floors for the first time in its history.

When the referendum was passed, Creedon promised to raise, independently, an additional $2 million towards the expansion. Since a review process to get the library project approved by the village boards and the Suffolk County Health Department, her hopes for donations is now between $2.5 million and $3 million.

Last week, Creedon said the library has already raised about $1.5 million towards that goal, but hopes to also focus its efforts on building JJML’s endowment in order to ensure its future. This is particularly important as school districts, municipalities and even libraries are increasingly finding the need to cut back on the amount of funding in their budget that they seek from taxpayers each year.

“When I first interviewed for the position, I said that one of my goals was that any institution, even one that is publicly funded, should be committed to fundraising to ensure the viability and sustainability of the institution,” said Creedon.

The fundraising committee, led by board members like Jackie Brody, Linley Whelan and newcomer Toby Spitz, along with former board member Christiane Neuville, said at the January meeting that this aspect of fundraising would become a focus of their group. Looking for grant funding, in addition to critical private donations will be critical for them to succeed in their mission, noted Neuville.

As a part of the library’s campaign to raise funding around the building project — the library is now fully in the throes of its restoration, with scaffolding covering its façade — the board has created a specific donation for the endowment that will be commemorated on a plaque in the building’s lobby when it reopens.

Along with several other naming opportunities within the library, the board has created the Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage Circle Society, for groups of donors willing to give the library between $5,000 and $10,000 towards buffering its current endowment fund.

“We recognize that even while we fundraise for our capital campaign, the true sustainability of the library comes from being able to draw on the interest of an endowment to offset our costs,” said Creedon.

Mrs. Sage, also known as Mrs. Russell Sage, funded the library’s construction in honor of her grandfather Major John Jermain at a cost of $92,000. She also endowed the library with around $160,000, which the library has kept throughout its 100-years drawing on the interest the money has collected for programming and operating costs.

Last week, Creedon said she was not looking at a final fiscal goal for the endowment, but that raising that money, as opposed to funds for the building project, is in recognition that JJML is much greater than the building project residents have been focused on for decades.

“In our commitment to this community, we need to recognize that we need to be sustainable for another 100 years,” said Creedon.

Creedon said she also recognizes that with the growth in technology, the library’s role and its services are evolving and JJML must keep up.

As tablets and digital readers gain in popularity, Creedon said she is challenged to think outside the traditional box of viewing a library as a repository for books. Areas for DVDs and compact discs are being created with removable shelves, so should those readers become the primary viewing source for those formats the library will be able to continually adapt.

“Digital circulation is up 400 percent,” she said. “We need to make sure the library is in a position to respond to those changes.”

The library is beginning to circulate e-readers and will purchase two iPads for the children’s department, said Creedon, as many parents are using the technology as teaching tools. A hearing loop system for the hearing impaired — making the whole of the new library amplified for those with proper hearing aids — and a dedicated room for digital music and film projects is also planned for the new building.

The cost of these kinds of changes, said Creedon, are expenses she would like to see covered by the interest of an endowment in the future, rather than leave the library in a position of having to cut services to keep the overall cost of the library at a minimum for taxpayers.

In fact, once the building project is completed, Creedon said she would like the library’s annual appeal to be designated specifically for the endowment fund. Traditionally those monies have been used to offset the operating cost of the library.

“But ultimately, we have a commitment to our community to make this library as sustainable as possible,” said Creedon. “In our 2013 annual appeal letter, I hope to start a discussion about the endowment.”

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