The Ridgefield Library already hosts a number of different programs for members of the community free of charge, including (but not limited to) children's storytime, art classes, musical performances and family language enrichment programs.
As a partially subsidized nonprofit organization, the library serves as a community center for many in Ridgefield.
But as talks regarding the recently approved town contribution of $5 million out of a $20 million renovation continue, some have called into question the role the library will play in the community and the expansion's possible effect on local economic factors.
Selectwoman Barbara Manners was vocal Thursday afternoon in her concern for local businesses pending increased traffic at the new library.
"I have a concern that with a lot more space there will be a lot more programs," Manners said. "These could potentially compete with local businesses, in particular the early childhood programs."
It is a question brought to light by the separate issue of the Recreation Center, part of the town's Parks and Recreation Department -- the center has had trouble competing with local businesses such as gyms and fitness centers that charge a fraction of the amount.
"I don't want to see these businesses undermined," Manners said of local childcare operations that might lose business to a newly renovated library. "These shouldn't be at the library for free when people are trying to sell the same service in town."
Some on the Board of Selectmen disagreed with Manners' point, as did members of the Library Board in the audience.
"Some people can't afford those programs," Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark said. "That's why the library is there."
Manners suggested the possibility of a means test to take part in library programs, mentioning also that scholarships are available for those programs elsewhere with a fee.
"It's not the intention of the library to look around town and compete with businesses there," said Philip Lodewick, chairman of the Campaign for the New Ridgefield Library. "Let the library do what it's been doing since 1903 fairly well, and you'll be pleased with the result."
Manners had what she said were the taxpayers' interests in mind in an attempt to prevent tax-subsidized harm befalling competing businesses.
"We have community centers in town already," Manners said. "We don't want to put them out of business."
First Selectman Rudy Marconi added, though, that the library is not the only service in town to perform functions available elsewhere for a fee, and that placing this sort of control on the library would create a dangerous precedent.
Library Director Chris Nolan said that the library would continue with "standard library programs" that are consistent with the mission -- she said the library board is capable of looking at the big picture and being sensitive to community needs.
What the Board of Selectmen agreed upon unofficially was to mention in the contract, albeit broadly, the importance of remaining sensitive to local businesses.
"We need the library to be collaborative instead of competitive," Selectwoman Di Masters said. "As [the library] grows it will be ever more important to maintain that balance."
The Board of Selectmen will vote at a special meeting Wednesday, Feb. 1, on the revised contract and a possible date for the library referendum.