HAMILTON: Library Reflects Condition of the City – It’s In TROUBLE

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By: Ken Hamilton

You might have seen her walking the main streets of downtown Niagara Falls pulling a small metal wire cart like the ones that you used to be able to buy at K-Mart before it closed. Sherrill Fulghum always looked old to me, even as we aged together; and she still looks much the same as she did the first time that I saw her, all of those years ago. Her colorful, sometimes mismatched clothes flows loosely across her body, making her look like she had just stepped from the 1970s California’s Bay-area and through some small opening in the space-time continuum, just to make the city a bit more cosmopolitan than it would have been had she not been here. With her over-sized sun hat and signature yellow glasses, she made me feel as if I was here, and there, all at the same time, like when I was in the presence of those whom I met on the streets of San Francisco the first time that I visited it in 1971. That was three years before the city finished that design-plagued Earl Brydges Building that houses its central public library. As it is with most of us, time has not been very good to it; and like the condition of the city, it is in trouble; so much so, that Sherrill is walking away from it.

“I used to go there for the art classes that they had,” Sherrill said. “I was Wendy’s helper, but Wendy up and quit, leaving because she was just fed up. Now there’s no more classes and I don’t go much any more.”

Sherrill’s plight came to me when she wrote on Facebook about her complaint about the library locking their front doors, making patrons walk across uneven potholed pavement to the poorly-lit parking lot to enter through the back door of the massive building. She says that the librarian closed the front doors because of the unruly middle school children who came into the building disturbing the patrons.

In speaking with the Library Director Sarah Potwin, she admits that while that some of the children did “create some challenges” not all of them did.

Sherrill, like many others, thought that it was wrong to punish everyone because of the few. She said that the teens were banished from coming into the library after school, but thought that it was discriminatory to people who have mobility issues not to be able to enter and exit in the front. But if everyone has to walk around then it couldn’t be discriminatory.


Sherrill Fulghum, Resident of Niagara Falls


She cited that those who were accustomed to entering through the front door couldn’t know that they no longer could because the sings telling them that were too small to see unless they were close enough to read them. Potwin said that they large white sign with red letters that are large enough to see from the street are placed on the doors every night to let people know that the library is closed. It is clearly a case of both not hearing what the other is seeing.  Potwin also said that if someone does have a mobility issue they can enter and exit through the front. “I have helped,” she said, “and saw my staff helping people in wheelchairs and with canes in and out of the front door.”

Sherrill counters that in the event of an emergency and someone has to flee the building, the doors are physically locked and they couldn’t get out. “Someone has to alert the fire chief about this,” she said.

I am awaiting a call back from the fire chief.

 It is true that the building floors need leveling, the parking lot needs paving and there is a serious issue with the lighting around the city-owned building. City Administrator Nicholas Melson is aware of it and said in a telephone call that the city is working to improve lighting in all of its parking lots, including the one at the library. “We have scheduled new lighting for the golf clubhouse parking lot and one of the fire halls,” he said, “and are looking to get to the library.” Paving, he said, as it is with a lot of areas that need it, are held up and contingent upon the timing of the return of the tribal payments that come through the state to the city; but the library’s parking lot is one to look at and include.

But, like the city, there’s no question that the library has both material and personnel issues, as exemplified by, as Sherrill put it, “… Wendy up and quit, leaving just because she was fed up.” While that hasn’t been verified, several other staffers have left or will be doing so. Potwin said that they expect to replace the librarian within a couple of weeks.

There’s more in the hopper and more to come on this issue as we await a return call from former school superintendent Carmen Granto, the President of the Library Board.

We have just got to fix everything wrong with the library. Too many people need it. Instead of Sherrill walking away from it, more people need to be walking through the Fulghum space-time continuum and into a library that beckons patrons of every stripe – especially the teen-aged youth.


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