Time to fund library is now

It will be interesting to see what architects come up with as they plan an expansion to Wadleigh Memorial Library in Milford.

The library’s trustees are beginning to search for an architect to develop one, and we hope the plan will find eventual support. In 2015 and again in 2016, a $5.6 million plan calling for the building to be demolished and replaced with a new, more modern structure was rejected by voters.

The project has been on the town’s capital improvement project list at least 14 times since 1995, but was pushed off in favor of other projects.

The library had significant competition from other community needs, especially fire, ambulance and police facilities.

Now, the competition shouldn’t be as tough and, really, it’s time for this library to grow. Of course it’s difficult to get voter backing when some officials question the need for a repository of books, claiming that with the advent of electronic devices, people don’t need libraries nearly as much as they once did. That’s not true.

In Milford, a town of about 16,000 people, the library had 9,400 card holders last year. The children’s room is crowded, there is insufficient programming space, and the library has only two bathrooms when there are sometimes as many as 100 people in the building. That’s not good.

During hard times, like the Great Recession 10 years ago, residents have a great need for no-cost or low-cost entertainment and information. During good times and bad times, the library is the only real community space.

It is more than just books, as anyone who has been to any local library can testify. It offers computers for those who don’t have them at home, it has books on CD, it has DVDs, it has access to language courses, it is a place to relax and read the newspaper, and a place for community gatherings. It has skilled librarians who are more than willing to help with information searches.

Quite simply, it’s vital to our community.

Milford voters have a history of rejecting major projects at least once, sometimes twice. The police station, for instance, was a tough sell for a few years despite Milford officers operating out of what had been a decrepit motel on Elm Street. The police station finally made it through, as did, eventually, the ambulance bay. We recognize all those projects were necessary.

But so, too, is Wadleigh Memorial Library. It also is important because of what it says about a community. A town that doesn’t treasure its library is a town that doesn’t treasure learning and knowledge.

This time around, Wadleigh trustees are profering a $3 million project rather than the $5.6 million plan that twice failed. Certainly the large sum of money likely had something to do with that failure. However, we also think it had something to do with the plan calling for the front of the building to come down to the sidewalk, replacing the front lawn and giving the block an urban look. We hope there is a way to expand the building without getting rid of trees and grass.

For too long, one of the fixtures on the library’s checkout desk has been a large jar seeking donations. What’s next? Librarians holding car washes as some high school groups do? Our library and community both deserve better.