Front row, left to right: Stephen McAllister (Board President, Westerly Public), Brigitte Hopkins (Library Director, Westerly Public), Christine Johnson (Library Director, Mystic & Noank Library), Rhona Heyl (Board President, Mystic & Noank Library), Belinda de Kay (Library Director, Stonington Free) and Nick Kepple (Board President, Stonington Free). Courtesy of Mystic & Noank Library.
November 28, 2016 09:03AM
By Brooke Constance White
Sun staff writer
In an effort to start working together toward the collective goal of providing the surrounding communities with better access to information and literature, the leadership of the Westerly Library, Stonington Free Library and Mystic & Noank Library met last month for the first time in recent history.
Belinda de Kay, director of the Stonington Free Library, said the meeting was a great success and that it likely opened the door for partnerships down the road.
“We’re all nonprofits and it’s no good to all work separately when we can do so much more together,” she said. “In the past, I think that funding from the towns or lack of funding has been seen as competition.”
Stonington Free Library and the Westerly Public Library have a reciprocal relationship in which patrons of each library can use the other, but the towns’ share of funding is not mutual. Stonington contributes to libraries in both towns, and also to the Mystic & Noank Library, which is in Groton. Patrons in Westerly are able to use their library cards to check out materials at Stonington Free, and vice versa. Stonington does not receive any funding from Westerly or Groton.
“It’s an odd and complicated situation that’s particularly difficult during budget season,” de Kay said.
Stonington used to charge Westerly patrons a yearly fee for using the library, but decided to revoke it after de Kay said the library leadership decided it wasn’t “neighborly.”
Today, the libraries would rather work together and promote each other’s programs than allow the funding issue to prevent partnerships. “As community nonprofits, we’re all experiencing the same issues,” de Kay said. “It would be much better to all work together to get ideas on how to solve some of these issues. I think the big meeting with everyone was a kind of kickoff to get us started in thinking about how we can collaborate more and what sorts of joint programs and partnerships could happen.”
Melissa Floyd, development coordinator at Stonington Free Library, said that by nature, Stonington has a unique area of service, as there are three villages within the town and no real town center.
“It makes sense that not only the libraries but that all the communities can do so much more together,” she said. “We all have strengths and certain niches that we fill, and if we all work together, we could potentially host broader, better events and programs.”
Hopefully this is the start to an ongoing tri-library partnership, de Kay said.
“Collaborating is always better,” she said. “And it’s a much nicer feeling when we’re all working together to further our mission.”