Read letter in PDF format

From Robert A. Greenspon

December 2016

Dear Friends of the Atheneum,

As a most wonderful and impressive year in the long history of the Atheneum draws to a close, it is time to reflect on this wonderful institution, this public library of ours. As a fan of A. A. Milne I agree with Winnie the Pooh when he says, “It’s more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like ‘What about lunch?”‘ So how might I describe the past year at the Atheneum in short, easy words?

Let me start by quoting some of our 2016 visitors:

  • “A place for contemplation. Superb and inviting.”
  • “My favorite place. A beautiful library with kind staff.”
  • “One of the great public libraries in the country. Don’t miss it.”
  • “More than just a library. A great community resource. One of the best libraries on the planet.”

Why include these comments? Well, of course they are flattering and it makes us proud and happy to know that the work of Molly Anderson, our wonderful executive director, her stellar staff, our magnificent board and each of our sponsors and friends is appreciated. But more importantly, our visitors’ impressions help us to measure whether our mission as the island’s free public library is working. Are we welcoming? Are we user friendly? Are we providing essential services and programs to the community? In a nutshell, how are we doing? It is my distinct pleasure to report that your Atheneum is doing splendidly.


How do you evaluate the success of an institution like the Atheneum? One way is to see if we have achieved the objectives we have established for ourselves. We set very ambitious goals for 2016 (fund raising, Dance Festival programming, opening on Mondays to name just a few); we are committed to improvement; treading water is not an option. Each year we must rethink, reimagine and improve the Atheneum. We have a “best in class” mindset. Those who looked at the digital age and predicted the end of libraries misunderstood the critical relevance and usefulness of the public library. On this island, the Atheneum has become the cultural center of the community. We are a “high touch” institution with a close connection to our year around, seasonal and visitor communities. Our 1.6 million free items available in many formats including downloadable and streaming provide reliable information and extensive reading, listening and viewing pleasure. In addition, let us take a snapshot of several days in the life of the Atheneum to see how the library has evolved with the times with this sampling of our programs for a few days in November:

  • Children’s Music (teaching musical skills to the very young).
  • Beginners’ English Language
  • Saltmarsh Senior Center Christmas tree ornaments project.
  • Toddler Time, Babies Into Books, Pre-school Story Time (introducing the next generation and their caregivers into the wonderful world of literacy).
  • Teens Live to Love to Live Workshop (safe forum for teens; what is said in our meetings stays in our meetings).
  • Library Lego Challenge (library supplies the Lego bricks and a challenge).
  • Lyme Disease Support Group (create connection and provide support and information).
  • Teen Makerspace: Tiny House Luminaries (Cut, fold and glue colorful card stock into tiny houses with battery operated candles that flicker and glow).
  • Atheneum Writers Group: The Moving Pen (working together on writing exercises and other sources of inspiration).

Each of these programs is free and open to the public – our “secret sauce.” Please come as you are; you will be welcomed and looked after as a friend and we won’t charge you for our time we spend with you or for your use of any of our services. We are open six days a week all year long (by popular demand, we are opened on Mondays this year) and our information resources are available 24/7 through our web access portals. Such is the wonder of the modern Nantucket Atheneum.

As a free public library our business model is challenging. When a “business” adds services which are enjoyed by more and more people, revenue goes up. Think of a baseball team that wants to fill the stands. But wait, we don’t charge for our 1000 programs. Ironically, adding services only increases our expenses, not our revenue. So we must look outside of our operations for the revenue that drives our programs and buys our books and DVDs and heats our spectacular 1847 building. Most public libraries receive over two-thirds of their financial support from public sources. We are an exception. As a privately owned public library we must raise more than 60% of our annual operating budget from our friends. As you can see, this is a responsibility that we take very seriously. Actually, we are relentlessly focused on exceeding our annual goals and as a result we spend much of our time in the never ending (sorry!) essentials of fund raising. When you step back and take a quiet look at the Atheneum, it’s really quite simple and clear; to continue to be a great institution we will always need your help.

Since we unapologetically ask for your help, you are entitled to ask us: how are your development efforts going and do you spend our hard earned charitable dollars wisely? On behalf of development committee chair Joan Gulley and our director of development Maggie O’Reilly I have the pleasant job of reporting the very good news: each of our three major fund raising initiatives – our Annual Fund, our Dance Festival and our Thanksgiving Day Cold Turkey Plunge – exceeded our ambitious goals and set new records of giving in 2016. I am proud to report that our tradition of 100% giving by our board was again achieved with board gifts also setting new records. And yes, we continue to operate leanly with modest staff levels and a balanced budget which Molly and our treasurer David Ross watch like hawks. We have our work cut out for us in 2017 to improve upon this record!


The Atheneum Dance Festival has become a very major event in the world of high-end dance. For the Boston football and baseball fans out there, it is the equivalent of having Tom Brady and Big Papi playing in your backyard. The world’s best dancers spend a week on Nantucket, conducting workshops and rehearsing and enjoying the hospitality of our sponsors, and then give two thrilling performances. And thanks to our Festival chair Cathy Weinroth and her impressive committee, all of this wonderfulness is the Atheneum’s most significant fund raiser. In addition, the dancers, who literally dance in the most prestigious concert halls around the world, say that this is their favorite week of the year. Talk about a win-win.

The Thanksgiving Day Turkey Plunge was also a huge success. We had record participation and revenue which benefits the Weezie children’s library. How great that this fun event is enjoyed so many (it has become a Thanksgiving Day staple) and at the same time supports the children of Nantucket.

Our board is one of our great strengths. We will shortly say adieu to Rhoads Zimmerman and Orla Murphy-Lascola, trustees whose terms are expiring; they have been exemplary stewards of the Atheneum for which we are grateful. We are thrilled to announce our new class of trustees – Maureen Graf, Hillary Rayport and Patricia Harding – and stay tuned for more news on that front.


As a result of our dedicated staff, board of trustees and our friends and supporters, the 2016 Atheneum is strong and vibrant. We are open six days a week all year, we provide over 1000 programs a year for free and we do it all with a balanced budget. If there is one takeaway from this letter, it is this: the vitality of this institution is a result of your generosity and foresight in supporting the island’s cultural heart. Our accomplishments are your accomplishments. Without your support we could simply not prosper let alone flourish.

Together we are invested in a most valuable resource – the people of Nantucket. I expect you share my view that such an investment is well worth making and is critical to the well being of this special island we all love.

With sincere thanks and gratitude,

Robert A. Greenspon

Chair, Atheneum Board of Trustees