A member of the public addresses Wyandanch Public Library board...

A member of the public addresses Wyandanch Public Library board members at a special meeting Wednesday. Credit: Rick Kopstein

The leaders of Wyandanch Public Library, which is facing the threat of losing public funding for not meeting the state's minimum standards, held a special public meeting Wednesday to try to fulfill a requirement for more community engagement.

The Suffolk County Library System notified the New York State Education Department last month it couldn't certify the library was meeting state minimum standards due to missing documents, including meeting minutes, putting the library's registration in danger of suspension.

About 20 community members voiced concerns and complaints at Wednesday night's meeting to library board vice president Norman Sellers, board trustees Kisha Carter and Cindy Paschall and interim library director Fred Lopez.

Sellers said the library has a host of mistakes to overcome and the meeting was in part a recognition of the “lack of transparency” that had occurred and an attempt “to move forward.”

In an Oct. 3 letter, state librarian Lauren Moore laid out for Wyandanch library officials seven minimum standards the facility still has to meet.

One is a “community-based, board-approved, written long-range plan of service developed by the library board of trustees and staff.”

Moore also asked library officials to provide a host of documents to demonstrate they have fulfilled requirements. Those include an annual report to the community on the library's progress in meeting goals and a list of web addresses where the library posts documents that are public under state law.

“If failures to meet the standards of registration are not addressed, a library’s registration may be suspended and the library may be ineligible to receive public funding, including its local tax levy,” Moore warned.

As of Thursday, the library hadn't provided any of the requested documents, according to state education department spokeswoman Keshia Clukey. 

The state hasn't suspended a library’s registration since 2008, she said. In that instance, a small, volunteer-run reading room in the Adirondack mountains couldn't meet minimum standards for public libraries and ultimately surrendered its charter, according to Clukey.

The state’s warning to Wyandanch Public Library came after what Kevin Verbesey, director of the Suffolk County Library System, said in an interview were months of warnings he gave facility officials before he alerted the state.

“In my 18 years, this is the first time that I’m reaching that point where I’m saying, ‘No, I’m not certifying that they’re meeting minimum standards and I’m not saying that they’re making a good faith effort to work toward it,’” Verbesey said.

The Suffolk library official said the Wyandanch facility submitted its annual report five months late in August.

Verbesey said he also is concerned because some missing documents, such as meeting minutes, should be “relatively easy” to provide.

“A library that doesn’t have access to their own board minutes — there’s almost nothing that demonstrates that something’s broken more than that,” he added.

Verbesey said a suspended registration and lack of tax dollars “basically puts a library out of business” which is “something nobody wants under any circumstances.”

At Wednesday's meeting, members of the public pressed Wyandanch library officials to post the facility's policies and procedures on its website, to come up with a strategic plan with both short and long-term goals, and to engage better with the community.

Some even criticized the special proceeding itself, with one attendee calling it a “last-minute thing” that got brief publicity with fliers that were only in English — even though Latinos make up the majority of Wyandanch's population.

Wyandanch school board trustee Latesha Walker urged library officials to hire a more diverse staff.

“Your staffing needs to reflect what your community looks like. Diversity is recognizing the population but inclusion is having a seat at the table," she said.

After Wednesday's meeting, Sellers declined to comment on the state’s letter, but noted that library attorney Shawn Cullinane is reviewing documents.

Cullinane said in an interview a day earlier that the library is working to comply with state standards.

“The library has gone through significant change of late — there's four new trustees in the last four years, new treasurer, new attorney — so they're tackling a significant amount of structural problems that the library has had,” he said. “We're committed to going forward in a positive manner and we're asking for the state's assistance and patience.”

The facility's struggle to meet minimum standards comes as library officials also face problems related to head custodian Kwaisi McCorvey, a Civil Service employee who pleaded guilty last month to raping a 16-year-old in 2016 in North Amityville and remains suspended with pay.

The victim in that case has filed a $30 million claim against McCorvey, the library and its current and former board members.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The state has warned Wyandanch Public Library it could lose public funding if it doesn't meet minimum standards.
  • Several documents the library has to provide for compliance remain missing, including meeting minutes going back to 2021.
  • Kevin Verbesey, director of the Suffolk County Library System, said he gave facility officials months of warnings before he alerted the state. 
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