On Tuesday, April 4, Westbury and Carle Place residents will vote on the library budget, which this year has no increase in taxes. Voters will also vote on who they want to sit on the library board. Running for the seat are incumbent Eric Dobrin and newcomer Denise Parillo.
Denise Parillo said the day she got her own library card—at age four at the children’s library—still stands in her mind. She said she wants library patrons to have the same experience at the library she had growing up.
“You could go in and look at books about things you had no idea ever existed,” Parillo said. “And you could take those books down and look at them and enter another world. You can’t do that in this library because there are so few books.”
The election newcomer said she believed it was very necessary to offer access to digital materials, but added that “there is room for both in this world,” touting that physical books and materials have their benefits as well.
Parillo said she’s been attending board meetings regularly for the last three to four years, and was motivated to run because several people asked her, and because she felt the board was ignoring the concerns of residents.
“It was what I saw and heard at those meetings that have caused me to do what I’m doing now,” Parillo said. “Instead of being frustrated and angry, it would be better to solve the problem by running for the board and trying to work from there instead of trying to be part of the loyal opposition.”
The tipping point, Parillo said, was a lack of accountability on the part of the board, after the library director disposed of the library’s microfilm, which included microphotographs of The Westbury Times dating back to 1954.
“At the November meeting, Mr. Dobrin said it was a mere mistake. And then subsequently, he, neither, any members of the board, felt that there was any need for accountability or that they should hold her accountable,” said Parillo. “In December…60 people spoke about their feelings and wanted accountability. The board acted like they were pacifying us. That’s how I felt when I made suggestions over the past three years. They appease you and it’s ignored. I felt they were not concerned with the feelings or concerns of the community.”
Parillo said the library has become an “isolated unit,” and if elected, she will work to make it more connected to the community. That includes cooperating with assisted living communities in the area to set up satellite libraries, and working in conjunction with the school district to provide discussions and presentations to help parents understand the college application process. Also on the top of her list is starting more book groups for specialized readers and interests, and providing opportunities for volunteer organizations to come and talk about people can get involved.
“I’ve been to a lot of libraries and I think there could be a lot more going on,” said Parillo. “There’s a lot of things that don’t cost money, but you have to reach out to the community.”
Eric Dobrin, a lifelong Westbury resident, worked at the library as a teenager and has been on the board for the past 10 years. He’s running for his third five-year term.
“I think it’s a wonderful institution,” Dobrin said. “Having the opportunity to be a part of the continued growth of the library is something I find exciting.”
Over the last decade, one of the biggest changes he’s seen is in the demographics of who the library serves. With the increase in the Hispanic and Muslim population, as well as an increase in the school-age demographic, the library faces the challenge of providing services for everyone.
“The library needs to be cognizant of this and try to figure out ways to make sure we’re still servicing everyone in the population as the population changes,” Dobrin said. “We’re always very cognizant of balancing providing services and doing it as fiscally responsible as possible, so we’re not overburdening the taxpayers.”
He noted that in the past 10 years, the number of people attending adult programs has gone from 4,410 to 7,228 a year. The number of kids attending young adult programs has gone from 1,970, to more than 5,000 with children going from 6,067 to almost 8,000 a year. Dobrin said one of the things he’s proudest of has been providing all that programming, with no tax increase over the last six years.
When it comes to providing services, Dobrin said it’s a collective job, saying a lot of credit has to go to the work of the staff. He said the board has been more cognizant in hiring, making efforts to hire employees who are multilingual.
“Particularly if we can find people who are Spanish or Creole speaking, to reach the sizable Haitian population,” said Dobrin, adding he tries to be accessible to library patrons to better understand their needs. “I think a lot of it is just trying to communicate to the public, to determine needs that are out there and be listening to people to be more aware.”
If reelected, another item on his to-do list is digitizing existing copies of The Westbury Times. He acknowledged that the discarding of the microfilm by the library director last year was “an error” but that the “board has since put measures in place to make sure in the future, a decision needs to come to the board prior to material being discarded.”
Dobrin noted that the board only found out the microfilm had been discarded after the fact.
“We would have liked if things had been handled differently,” Dobrin said. “We can’t go back and change what happened, but we put policies in place to make sure it didn’t happen again in the future.”
He said the board is investigating how to digitize existing copies of The Westbury Times to make it more accessible and will be exploring whether grants will defray some of the costs.
“We’ve been getting estimates,” Dobrin said. “It’s not an inexpensive thing to do, but is definitely something we want to get done.”