Challenges for library director

In a few days, Betsy Solon, of Brookline, will take over as director of Milford’s Wadleigh Memorial Library, and if you read last week’s story about her in The Cabinet, you might agree with us that she seems an able replacement for Michelle Sampson, who left last summer.

And that’s a good thing, because we believe that a library is one of the most important buildings in any community, because it is more than just a building. It is a storehouse of ideas, of concepts, of thought, and a place where all of these things can be shared by anyone who rel­ishes learning.

One can posit that a school or a house of worship is more important than a library, but we see the three as equal because they are all places of ideas and beliefs, also open to sharing.

And the idea of sharing seems to be one that is important to Solon. When she was director of Brentwood’s library, a post she held for five years, she increased the library’s senior citizen programming and expanded its collaboration with other groups in town. The Wadleigh already does a great deal of such outreach, but it’s reassuring to know that its new direc­tor has great interest in maintaining, and perhaps increasing, those things.

Where Solon must get up to speed quickly is on the issue of replacing the Wadleigh, something we believe is long overdue but has not won the support of enough residents. Indeed, despite being on Milford’s capital improvement plan for several years, a $5.6 million replace­ment project was rejected by voters two years in a row. That isn’t good, and we hope that the next time it comes up for a vote, a library replacement is approved.

But for that to happen, the Wadleigh’s new director will have to be a replace­ment’s strongest advocate. Solon doesn’t yet seem quite ready to lead that band. She told The Cabinet that first, she wants to see how the building’s needs fit into the needs and goals of the rest of the town, and that’s fine. One shouldn’t jump into any issue of this importance without first studying how it will affect the rest of the community.

But we have heard no compelling argu­ment against the idea that the Wadleigh needs replacement, and we doubt that Solon will, either.

Of course, anyone can argue that other needs of a community should come first.

But so is a library, and especially a li­brary like the Wadleigh, which has been getting more use in recent years despite the competition from electronic devices. Books, magazines, CDs and videos are still important to a great many people, and the Wadleigh staff has made sure that Milford’s library is there for every­one who wants it and everyone who needs it. We’re sure Solon will discover that. Given her experience, she certainly has a very strong belief in the importance of a library.

But the competition for tax dollars in any town is fierce, and Milford is no differ­ent, so the sooner our new director starts helping to beat that drum, the better.

She will quickly see, we think, that the library has some serious problems that include flooding, rotting windows and ceiling defects. And the architect who had been hired to design a new library even told the board of trustees last year that it was impossible to know when a ma­jor part of the building will fail.

This should be troubling to voters, but twice they have rejected new library pro­posals, and we wonder if it is because the design for a new Wadleigh was far from traditional, and would have necessitated removing the park and trees from the front of the Wadleigh.

This is something Solon will have to figure out. Milford needs a new and im­proved library, but isn’t going to get one if the trustees, and Solon, can’t get voters, and especially the selectmen, to back a plan.