Athens resident hopes to start private library

Monday May 7, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- By ratifying Warrant Article 12 on Town Meeting Day, voters elected to disband the Athens Library and its trustees due to a lack of participation, funding, circulation and purchase of new volumes.

That left Dolly F.H. Stevens, who said she was the head of the library, in an interesting dilemma. The long-time Athens resident had asked friends and acquaintances to donate their unwanted books in an effort to help the 117-year-old library thrive. Following the town's vote on March 6, Stevens attempted to give the volumes back to their original owners but it didn't work.

"They just donated them back," she said in a telephone interview, adding that she had initially received 4,000 books, which have been stored in the closed Athens Elementary School building. She said after Town Meeting that she was ending her fight to save the public library.

But now Stevens is trying to open a new library in a two-car garage on her property, the 24-acre G.W. Stevens Estate, which once belonged to her father. She said the garage is located on a piece of land known locally as "The Lawn." It is between her house and the valley cemetery.

She said she is confident it will eventually happen.

Stevens said she has been boxing up books since the day after the vote and has about 900 more to go. She said she is hoping to finish by May 10, when she is due to present a report of her progress to the Athens-Grafton School Board.

At Town Meeting, numerous taxpayers said they thought the public library was a nice feature for Athens, but that residents just couldn't shoulder the burden of keeping it open in these difficult economic times.

Resident Sandi Capponcelli, before recommending a vote in favor of disbanding the library, explained her admiration of libraries in the Green Mountain State.

She added, however, that it would be unreasonable to keep open the one in Athens with grant money as low as it was. She then added that she had spoken with people at Grafton Public Library and learned that the annual maintenance cost is $60,000.

Eventually, seven individuals requested that the vote go to a paper ballot. Voters decided by a 25-to-14 margin in favor of disbanding the library.

Stevens said the vote was probably a result of confusion on the part of the public.

"When some people voted ‘yes' they thought it was as ‘yes in favor of the library,'" she wrote in a letter to the Reformer. "But the ‘yes' really meant ‘yes, I agree with the Selectboard and the library should close.'"

Though she said it was most likely an innocent mistake, the disbandment is particularly frustrating to her because she says those involved with the library never asked for any town funding and operated purely on donations. She said about 10 percent of the individuals that donated books to her suggested that she open a new library.

The Stevens family has for about 80 years had its own private library on its property. As it is private, she said, the family can allow only the people it chooses to peruse for books. Stevens said she thinks there are about 7,000 volumes as well as Books on Tape, and VHS tapes, in the private library.

Domenic Poli can be reached at, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.


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