Phoenicia Library must raise $116K to rebuild

Since the March 19 fire that claimed every one of its thousands of books, the Phoenicia Library has staged a remarkable comeback. A week later, a temporary library was opened in the former Maverick Health Center, and offers of help and donations were pouring in.

Still, the library has a long way to go.

Judith Singer, the president of the board of the Phoenicia Library, told the Shandaken Town Board at their monthly meeting last night that the library will have to raise $116,000 in order to re-open permanently, whether at its old location or at a new one.

The money will be needed to cover the gap between the cost of restoring the library and the amount that the library's insurance would cover, Singer told the Board. Insurance will cover 80 percent of the costs, she said.

The remaining 20 percent is a hefty chunk of change. But the library has already raised several thousand dollars, and the librarians are planning a series of fundraisers – concerts, silent auctions, yard sales, book sales, and “whatever else the library can think of,” Singer said. On May 7, Mama's Boy  is hosting a bake-off to raise money for the library, and on May 21, there will be a benefit concert at the Onteora School.

Meanwhile, the librarians are still sifting through the library and its smoke-damaged contents to see if anything is salvageable. It's a heartbreaking task, and also a physically challenging one.

“Every book, every item is browned by smoke. It smells bad and it's dangerous. It's toxic for those with breathing issues or chemical sensitivities.” said Singer.

Although it appears that the library's books and CDs have all been destroyed, there may be a silver lining: Some bookshelves, which were built in the old Chichester furniture factory, may be salvageable. And Singer said that some of the objects in the library's Jerry Bartlett Memorial Angling Collection might be able to be saved, too. Besides its hundreds of rare books on flyfishing history, the collection housed some unique examples of the Catskills flyfisher's art.

“They have hand-tied flies by masters of the art that died fifty years ago,” Doris Bartlett, Jerry's widow, told the Watershed Post at the town meeting.

By an amazing coincidence, Catskill Mountain News columnist Bill Birns visited the angling collection to get fodder for his column just the week before the library burned. The column ended up being an homage to the collection, and the late Jerry Bartlett in whose honor it was organized. Here's an excerpt:

The Jerry Bartlett Memorial Angling Collection was 900 books, a-dozen-and-a-half fishing rods-and-reels, a display of vintage equipment. One wall featured Jerry's own April through October poster board displays of the life cycle of the Caddis and Mayflies, with fine examples of the hand tied artificial flies meant to mimic them.

“Match the hatch,” seemed to be Jerry's angling philosophy, an approach to the wily trout particularly connected to the traditional Catskill Mountain school of fly-fishing thought. His meticulous, handdrawn instructional charts were a priceless part of this collection.

Birns wrote that he hoped that some of the Catskills' dedicated flyfishers would step up to replace some of the teaching posters, or donate books or equipment. (The library is not yet taking book donations; the librarians say they've been overwhelmed with such requests, and aren't yet ready to take on the task of accepting large numbers of books.)

Singer said that although the librarians still have a long path ahead of them, the support they've gotten from the community has kept their spirits high.

“Phoenicia Library is the heart of the community, and that heart was briefly broken,” she said. “We've been overwhelmed, literally overwhelmed, with requests to donate, to help us in any way. That's what's kept us going.”