The grassroots work to-date on behalf of Oneida Public Library (OPL) generated significant capital and established a bold vision for the library as community center. However, the OPL’s decision to pursue legal action against the towns of Vernon and Verona demonstrate how this project is now the source of conflict rather than community-building.
Real opportunity exists within the opinions of those against the current plan. Behind what some may perceive as inappropriate feedback – including input from social media – such protests reveal valid concerns that may help transcend the OPL conflict from politics-as-usual into collaborative problem solving.
In September 2015, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined expectations based on the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, which acknowledged the myriad barriers and threats faced by many communities just like Oneida.
In an op-ed to the Huffington Post Cuomo wrote, “There is no ‘build it and they will come’ economic theory … Forge consensus…unified and motivated by the hope of a better future.”
To advance such objectives, OPL must engage the broader public – including its detractors – throughout its Special Legislative District based on its promise of programs to be delivered by a new library. A contemporary library is defined as much by the services it provides as the walls and physical books that surround it.
In 2009, the Madison County Department of Health commissioned a “Literacy Needs Assessment.” Among its many findings, the study found only 4.5 percent of 5,500 adults with low literacy skills received services.
The new OPL must aid this unmet need, especially if it invests public funds from communities outside the City of Oneida. However, hope for new services is not enough. Specific plans must be created, vetted, and approved.
One approach could unite OPL with local employers in major industries such as education, healthcare services and manufacturing. These partnerships could define how a new library will work on behalf of the area’s greatest employment needs. Beyond GED preparation alone, the OPL could invest taxpayer dollars into certification programs that pave the path toward middle-skills jobs that both strengthen the regional economy and empower people to achieve greater financial independence.
These types of investments may ultimately lead to a smaller physical footprint due to diverted funds for programming. However, the development and deployment of targeted, relevant services from a new – albeit smaller – OPL may in fact lead to a much broader impact on behalf of the community it claims to serve.
David M. Grome is a 2003 graduate of Oneida High School. The former Durhamville resident also served as student representative to the City of Oneida’s Chamber of Commerce. He holds a dual-degree in political science and public policy from Hobart College and resides in Rochester, New York.