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Internet cafe at library is approved by Selectboard

VERNON—From the “If At First You Don’t Succeed” files, it took two tries for the Vernon Free Library to gain Selectboard approval to install a small Internet cafe in the building’s foyer.

As Librarian Kris Berberian explained to the board in January, the plan is to arrange the bookshelves in such a way that it creates a little nook in the town office building’s foyer. Using donated planters, two or three tables, and some chairs, employees would turn the corner into a small seating area for patrons using the library’s wireless Internet connection. The space would be available even when the library is closed.

“It’ll be really nice and welcoming,” Berberian said, noting that currently, people sit in their cars outside the library to use the wi-fi.

Berberian told the board she and her colleagues would put a magazine rack in the area and keep that section of the lobby neat and organized.

“That space is so great, and it’s empty all the time,” she said.

Berberian’s plan also included turning a corner of the lobby into a more permanent place for the ongoing book sale. The book sale stacks have been temporarily placed in that location for a few months, and Berberian said it is going well.

“It does bring us in considerable donations to sell those books,” she said.

The proposal was shot down at the Jan. 4 Selectboard meeting when two members were absent after board member Josh Unruh cast the lone dissenting vote.

Quorum rules state that the only way the motion could have passed was if all three attending Selectboard members voted in favor.

Board Chair Christiane Howe and Vice-Chair Sandra Harris expressed their support. Howe said, “this is a community building and it should be used by the community."

Unruh disagreed.

During the vote, Howe and Harris voted in favor of the library plan. At first, Unruh attempted to abstain. When Howe told him he could not abstain, he voted against the plan.

Upon further inquiry, Unruh explained his decision.

He expressed concern the lobby will become “too congested.”

When Berberian assured him the seating area already exists in a similar form, and the plan will not result in it becoming any more congested, Unruh countered with his concern about electricity costs.

He said the town should not have to pay for people who plug in their laptops “all day,” and he noted “non-residents” use the library.

“We would be paying electricity for non-residents,” Unruh said.

When it was pointed out electricity costs would be minimal, and when Berberian said non-residents have the right to use the library, Unruh said he “doesn’t have enough information to make a decision."

Unruh suggested Berberian return to a Selectboard meeting when all members are present so the entire board can discuss and vote on the plan.

About a month later, she did just that.

At the Feb. 1 meeting, with all board members present, Berberian again presented her proposal.

During the brief question-and-answer period, board member Jeffrey Dunklee asked if anyone would monitor the websites patrons visit while using the library’s internet connection.

Dunklee said his concern is that kids will see things on their computers for which they are not ready.

“There’s no censorship at the library,” Berberian said, explaining that while staff do not monitor patrons’ online behavior, if they see something “objectionable” on a screen, they “ask [the patron] to shut it down and leave."

But, Berberian said in her 17 years of working in libraries, “I’ve never had to do that."

In a 4-1 vote, the board approved the library’s request to create an internet cafe in the lobby. Unruh was the only dissenting vote, “for the same reasons as last time,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #347 (Wednesday, March 9, 2016).

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