The fabulous Freeman Grant of 2001
I am an enthusiastic volunteer at the Charlotte town library. This means I spend a lot of time shelving books. This activity has taught me a lot about what kids--and adults--are reading. I am proud that Vermont communities support their libraries. I still mourn for the Carnegie library in northern California, my favorite place to be in my childhood, which was shut down for lack of community support.
April 17. 2015
by Robert J. Resnik
The state of Vermont consistently ranks high on all sorts of complimentary "best of" lists. Many Vermonters would be surprised to discover that Vermont is ranked No. 1 in the United States for the number of public libraries per capita. That's the good news.
The other news is that ever since Vermont towns were given the authority to establish free public libraries in the state (in a statute dated 1894), the 183 public libraries in Vermont have never received much more than $100 per year in state aid, and that was many years ago. The financial responsibility for buying books and materials, hiring staff, and providing a suitable location for a town's public library rests on the town and its community.
Consequently, due to financial constraints, many small town libraries in Vermont are open for only a few hours per week, are housed in woefully inadequate facilities, and operate with a skeleton staff or a staff composed entirely of volunteers.
Freemans step forward
Sometime in the late 1990s, Doreen Freeman, a patron of the Stowe Free Library (and a Stowe resident who regularly visited the library with her grandchildren), approached librarian Hilari Farrington with a question. Doreen Freeman and her husband, Houghton, had been involved with some library projects working with the Preservation Trust of Vermont, and were the administrators of the Freeman Foundation, a Vermont philanthropic foundation "which grants about $50 million every year to various organizations and institutions, (and) is committed to increasing, strengthening, and popularizing the teaching of topics concerning Asian heritage in university classrooms." Doreen Freeman's question to Farrington had nothing whatsoever to do with Asia or with university classrooms.
"We've been thinking about doing something for libraries," she told Farrington, "and would like some suggestions about how to proceed." At the time Hilari Farrington had been a librarian in Stowe for more than ten years, and was well acquainted with the many financial challenges of running a Vermont library. She explained to Doreen Freeman that each library in the state had its own special needs and that no two libraries were the same. Because of these differences there was no "one size fits all" approach. At Farrington's recommendation, the Freemans contacted that Vermont Department of Libraries. State Librarian Sybil Brigham McShane and Director of Public Library Services Marianne Kotch at the Vermont Department of Libraries, officially established the VT Public Library Foundation in August 2000 in order to manage the Freeman Grant as well as any other private contributions to benefit the state's public libraries. Each library applying for Freeman Grant funds was required to complete an application process, and the first checks were distributed in July 2001.
Whitingham children's library.JPG
Young readers in the Whitingham Free Public LibraryÃ¢€™s ChildrenÃ¢€™s Department, another beneficiary of the Freeman/VT Public Library Foundation Grant (Photo: Courtesy Fletcher Free Library)
More than $12 million
Between 2001 and 2004, the Freemans provided a total of more than $12 million in support of Vermont's libraries. The widely-varying sums of money awarded from the Freeman Grant and the many diverse ways the funds were spent corroborate Hilari Farrington's original observation that the context of each Vermont public library is unique. The level of funding for local libraries during each of the three years of the Grant period was dependent on each library's annual operating budget. Individual grants ranged from $5,000 each for some of the smallest more rural of Vermont's public libraries to $250,000 for the Rutland Free Library and Burlington's Fletcher Free Library, two of the state's largest. Libraries receiving grants were required by the Vermont Public Library Foundation to specify how the funds were to be used.
The projects, like the public libraries that benefited from the funds, were of many sizes and varieties. The Freeman Grant provided more than $400,000 to the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum. These funds enabled a major part of that historic building's renovation project. The Burnham Memorial Library in Colchester installed a gas unit in their old (unused) fireplace in their main reading room (and thanks to that improvement got rid of the bats that sometimes flew down the chimney!)
The Haskell Library in Derby Line used their grant money to replace the building's slate roof. The Blake Memorial Library in East Corinth purchased four new computers.
Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, right, and Fletcher Free Library Board President Geoffrey Crawford receive the libraryÃ¢€™s first VT Public Library Foundation check from state librarian Sybil Brigham McShane and Don Post, Freeman Foundation representative in May of 2002. (Photo: Courtesy Fletcher Free Library)
The Whitingham Free Public Library in the village of Jacksonville used their Freeman money to fund a much needed children's librarian position to provide services and programs to children and families. As a result, after the Freeman Funds had been spent, their childrens librarian position became permanent, funded through the town's annual budget and voted in at town meeting.
The Jericho Town Library received enough money to finally install a bathroom that could be used year round and could afford to drill a well to supply the building with its own water supply.
The Fletcher Free Library in Burlington used their grant money to completely redesign their main circulation desk, and also to purchase a new van for library outreach delivery and services. The tiny Windham Town Library used their $1,000 grant to purchase some new library books for the very first time, and many libraries used the grant money in order to make their buildings more accessible.
Mr. and Mrs. Freeman are no longer alive, but the many transformative improvements that were enabled by their generous gift to Vermont's public libraries continue to enrich the lives of people around the state. In addition to all of the direct benefits resulting from the welcome influx of cash, the Freeman grant also provided a living legacy to the state's public libraries by endowing the Vermont Public Library Foundation. The Foundation continues today to raise funds to help Vermont libraries large and small.
Thanks goes out to the following "major players" who provided essential information for this story: Hilari Farrington, retired library director, Stowe Free and Kellogg-Hubbard Libraries; Marty Reid, Vermont State Librarian; Paul Donovan, Vermont State Law Librarian; Michael Roche, Northeast Regional Library Consultant, Vermont Department of Libraries; Amy Howlett, Southeast Regional Libray Consultant, Vermont Department of Libraries; Annie D'Alton, Systems Support Specialist, Fletcher Free Library
Some lovely woodwork in the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, a Vermont public library whose restoration project was funded in part by the Freeman Foundation grant. (Photo: Courtesy of the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum)
To learn more
For information about donating to the Vermont Public Library Foundation, please visit their website.
Robert J. Renik
Burlington Free Press
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