Susan Miller and Patricia Bridges traded views and ideas on the future of the Port Washington Public Library Tuesday night as part of the Meet the Candidates series.
The event, hosted by the League of Women Voters, was an opportunity for local residents to meet the two candidates competing for a seat on the Port Washington Library Board of Trustees. Prospective voters asked questions about community outreach, diversity, voter turnout and the library space itself.
Bridges, who has served on the board for 10 years, said she sees four broad challenges ahead — managing and evolving the library, going digital, using what the library has to make better decisions and reaching out to new patrons.
“My job is to make sure that we guide the library into the future – staying ahead of the curve – so it continues to be the best library for our community,” Bridges said.
Miller, a 26-year Port Washington resident, attorney and 11-year Washington University library council member, called for improving outreach, representation and the library’s digital presence.
“We need to be online, in print and upfront,” Miller said.
The two candidates differed on how well the library is reaching out.
Miller said that turnout at library elections is less than 3 percent and that the board meetings were often poorly attended, due in part to little advertising and not making enough effort to reach out to other parts of the community.
She suggested increasing the library’s presence online and more clearly featuring notices of elections in other languages, and she floated the idea of sending college students out to drive residents who otherwise might have trouble reaching the library.
“People need to feel they’re welcome at the library,” Miller said.
Bridges said that while the library should reach out to more people, the library has already done a lot. She noted that over 300 volunteers serve on committees, that many of their brochures are translated and that one cannot force people to turn out. She also said that the library is working with the League of Women Voters to try to get more people out to vote.
“It’s very difficult to energize people to come for a meeting they feel is not very important,” Bridges said. But, she said, reaching out to the wider community is “not an area the library is inactive in.”
While the two candidates differed slightly in priorities, both said they ran because they felt they could use their backgrounds to benefit the community.
Nancy Cowles, 77, the membership chair of the League of Women Voters, said the candidates both performed well on stage. But she noted that there were not enough people and the event was competing with bad weather, a local board of education meeting and possibly even satisfaction with the library itself.
“I think there could be people who perhaps aren’t, but a lot of people are satisfied with the library, a lot of people use it,” Cowles said. “But I think the public has an obligation too, and it might benefit us if more people come out.”
Mary Thompson, a Port Washington resident, said she originally came out to support her friend Miller. As the event went on, she said she was impressed with the discussion.
“But then I started listening to her ideas and went ‘oh, I never thought of that, oh I never thought of that, oh I never thought of that’!” Thompson said with a laugh. “I also came because I feel like it’s important to listen to everybody and see what the real issues are.”
Thompson added that while she had never gone to library meetings before, she is strongly considering going to more in the future.