The Phoenicia Library has a new interim director, hamlet resident Elizabeth Potter, as well as two new board members and two new employees. Meanwhile, bids are being processed for the renovation of the Main Street library that was gutted by fire last March, but objections by neighbors will delay the building project.
Potter has been appointed for one year to replace director Tracy Priest, who departed, on good terms with the library, for a higher-paying job. A former board member and treasurer, Potter has been working on staff for almost two years.
“We’re delighted to have Liz as director,” said library board president Kurt Boyer. “She has the full knowledge of the operations of the library, including the budget. She doesn’t have a library degree, but she graduated summa cum laude from Harvard. She’s loved within the community, she knows the patrons of the library well, and the staff works very well with her.”
Potter, who has been on the job for three weeks, said, “I absolutely adore it. When I first moved here and had very young children, I could not have survived without the library. I took out 12 books a week when I was pregnant and on bed rest.”
As a trustee, she was happy to be having a positive impact on the community and contributed hours of volunteer time. “I left the board to be a staff member and loved virtually every minute of that job, no matter how mundane. You’re giving people books to entertain and educate them — it’s such a positive thing. There’s no aspect of harm to this job. It’s right livelihood, which is so hard to find in this world.”
Potter and her husband, a teacher at Onteora High School, moved to the area in 2001 to participate in the community at Zen Mountain Monastery.
Since her appointment, Potter has hired two young staff members to replace departing library assistant Susan Penick. In the search for employees well-versed in the Internet and computers, she found Ryan Hickey, who is graduating from Onteora High School this spring and has been recruited as a shotputter by Oberlin College. “He’s a wonderful, modest person,” said Potter. “He’s interested in starting a computer how-to class for teenagers here.”
As part of the effort to make the library’s services more relevant to young people, she also hired Paula Dutcher, who is studying English literature at SUNY New Paltz and sign language at SUNY Ulster. Dutcher comes from a long-time local family. “She will be part of creating programming,” explained Potter, “with her understanding of what young people are interested in. Her input will be huge.”
New board members Lester Fensterheim and Nancy Howell are replacing Barbara Redfield and Rebecca Barry, who are withdrawing for personal reasons.
Approval lawsuit setback
Neighbors on both sides of the Main Street library building have taken legal action against the Shandaken Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and the library, alleging technical errors in the ZBA’s approval of the renovation plans. After consulting with lawyers, the library board has decided to withdraw its application and reapply.
“The neighbors filed an Article 78, challenging technicalities in the process,” said Boyer. “After review, it turns out they have a pretty good case. Everything the zoning board did, the variances they passed, they were in their legal right to do it, but there were technicalities in the way they did it that were in error. Neither the town nor the library has money to fight this. We’re going to withdraw and reapply, and try to make sure everything is done properly this time.”
Boyer expects the reapproval process to set the project back three months, although bids from six or seven local contractors have already begun to arrive, ahead of the May 7 deadline.
Fundraising for the reconstruction continues, with the Phase 1 plans already accounted for but more money needed for Phase II. The total cost was originally estimated at $711,000, but Boyer hopes the bids for the two phases combined will come in significantly lower. As soon as the bids are in, an update will be posted on the library website and on the window of the library. The board obtained a grant of $119,000 toward the renovation from the New York Library Association last year and will apply for another grant this year to help close the gap.
“We’re meeting with prospective large donors,” noted Boyer, “people who would like to have some naming opportunities in the new library, such as the community room, the children’s room, the elevator. We’re also setting up small naming opportunities, and we’ll be putting those out soon. One idea is to design ceramic fish with your name on it, to put around the circulation desk.” ++

See phoenicia.lib.ny.us/ for updates.