During their meeting last night, the Board of the New Haven Free Public Library discussed the possibility of allowing private organizations to rent out space from the library for long-term use.
The topic of long-term lease came to the board’s notice after the Elmseed Enterprise Fund — a Yale student-run non-profit that provides microcredit and consulting services to low-income residents — requested a long-term lease for storage space in a closet at the New Haven Free Public Library last fall. Although a librarian signed a memorandum of understanding for such an action, President of the Board Claudia Merson said that this was not legal, noting that there remain several questions regarding the leasing of public space.
“We’re not nearly ready to do it,” said Merson, who also serves as the director of public school partnerships for Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs. Merson said the board does not have the authority to rent out a space owned by the city, and she questioned what the library’s liability would be if such a rental process were established.
City Library Director Martha Brogan noted that the library had never done something similar before. According to Brogan, existing rentals of library space are either seasonal or one-off occasions, not long-term.
Merson clarified during the meeting that the discussion was about the existence of a leasing process, not on whether Elmseed specifically is eligible to rent space. She called the organization a “lovely group,” and noted that the closet space would be available for their use if the board authorized a leasing procedure.
Still, several board members added that certain restrictions and qualifications would be required if the leasing process was created. Brogan said it was important that the organization requesting space either contributed to one of the library’s existing programs, or to the library’s duty to serve the New Haven community.
By the end of the meeting, board members, having raised a number of questions about the feasibility of renting the public space, assigned one board member the task of further researching the leasing process.
Aldermanic Representative for the library Jeanette Morrison — who is the Ward 22 alder — questioned the practicality of renting library space. She said that the library might not be able to give organizations exclusive use of library space.
As a further question, Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, the vice president of the board, asked who would approve of long-term leases.
“One of the issues here is the signing of legal agreements can’t be [an authority] that everyone has,” he said.
Noting board members’ concerns about the leasing process, Merson said there were two main issues: whether the library should ever sign long-term contracts, and if it might be possible to rent out space without a formal contract.
At the end of the discussion Brogan was given the assignment of finding out how the establishment of a leasing process could happen.
“I’ll give it my best,” she said.