HUG THE ATHENAEUM!
The Vermont library community is outraged by the December 3rd, 2012 announcement of the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum Board of Trustees to lay off its entire library staff in order to save only 8% of their budget while increasing non-library staff hours. Vermont library and literacy advocates acknowledge the Board’s authority to restructure during stressful economic times, but their drastic actions demonstrate a devaluation of libraries and taxpayer supported services. This decision will reduce library reference hours, and cut vital library services to the taxpayers and patrons of St. Johnsbury, as well as the entire the Northeast Kingdom.
Sherry Tolle, director of the Barnet Public Library says this:
“How many librarians would love to provide the services we do in a setting a beautiful as the Athenaeum. But a library is not about the building or the number of books, or art collections or historic documents. A library’s staff provides the gamut of services, from dispensing information to encouraging literacy; from finding answers to posing questions; from troubleshooting computers to re-binding treasured books; from listening to our patron’s concerns and issues to championing freedoms of speech and privacy. Can anyone truly put a price on the services a good librarian provides? The St. Johnsbury Athenaeum is nice building that houses great librarians. They are and will be great librarians wherever they go. The Athenaeum, without them, is just a pretty building.”
Penny D. Pillsbury, director of the Brownell Library in Essex Junction, had this to say:
“Having worked with Lisa von Kann, the Director of the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, for over 20 years, I’m horrified that a consummate professional of her caliber would be treated with such brutal lack of respect. I would hope that the citizens of the entire Northeast Kingdom will rise to support Lisa and her excellent staff without hesitation and with appropriate outrage. I am sure that the people in St. Johnsbury need the skills of trained information professionals to help them through these hard economic times. In my 48 years of library work, I can’t think of a worse time to ‘fire the librarians.’ Lisa and staff we have your back! We may have to all drive over to St. Johnsbury!”
Marti Fiske, library director of the Dorothy Alling Memorial in Williston, stated it this way:
“I’m shocked by the Draconian actions of the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum trustees. The methods of the Athenaeum trustees are irresponsible and confounding. How their actions at all beneficial to the community or to the institution?
The Athenaeum is the largest library in the Northeast Kingdom. It provides services to more than the citizens of St. Johnsbury. It serves residents throughout the Kingdom. It is also part of an intricate web of support to other libraries across the state via its interlibrary loans, staff volunteers on state-wide committees and mentorships to other librarians.
The Athenaeum already provides online databases of ebooks, audiobooks, online classes, research sources and computers for the public to access them. One cause given for the “restructuring” was to focus on more digital services. But the Northeast Kingdom does not yet support the robust internet access required for many residents to access those services. Too few residents in the region have high-speed internet available to them and/or the household funds to purchase and support the equipment needed for access.
The St. Johnsbury Athenaeum claims to be “a private, nonprofit public library and art gallery … The Athenaeum fills two roles: it serves the people of St. Johnsbury by enriching their lives, and it stands as a regional and national treasure – a monument to the nineteenth-century belief in learning.” Note that being a “public library” is first in this statement. The Athenaeum Trustees are being totally irresponsible to the institution’s mission, its staff, the residents of the region and the entire state’s library system.”
Rural Librarians Unite feel that the decision of the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum Board is unique among these offenses to literacy in that such a heavy handed approach was taken to “restructure” in the name of budget cuts. The Board’s actions cheapen information institutions and show distrust in library professional knowledge, as well as a disinterest in the wellbeing of Vermont’s most vulnerable learners who routinely seek out libraries for safe spaces and services.
TAKE ACTION NOW!
Step One: Contact the Athenaeum to express your opinion about the Board’s actions–contact executive director Matthew Powers and board vice-president, Gil Steil to express your concerns. Send email to email@example.com or call 802-748-8291.
Step Two: CALL YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS AND ASK THEM TO SUPPORT VERMONT LIBRARIES. Let them know that you support Vermont libraries, Vermont librarians and library funding for Vermont library services. Ask them to endorse this statement.
STEP THREE: Join Rural Librarians Unite with the Vermont Library Association and the citizens of St. Johnsbury on the steps of Athenaeum to “hug” the library, Saturday, January 12th at noon. We will be holding hands around the library in solidarity with Athenaeum library staff.
Rural Librarians Unite (RuLU) is a volunteer group created to promote and support libraries, library staff, and librarianship in rural settings. Rural Librarians Unite facilitates dialog between library boards and library workers, encourages new developments in library science, and advocates for libraries and librarians in rural areas. While RuLU is principally focused on libraries in rural settings it recognizes all forms of librarianship with particular support for libraries at risk.