Library Trustees Need To Address Criticisms

The Board of Trustees of the C.H. Booth Library has a problem. It has hired a new library director it hoped would lead one of Newtown’s most revered institutions into the future but who has fumbled badly in the first two months of his tenure. Instead of rallying the community around its library to meet the challenges and opportunities of the Information Age, he has failed to connect with his staff and has alienated many of the library’s most steadfast patrons. The board itself was drawn into the drama this week as it was scolded by townspeople, some of them former board members themselves, for making a mistake and not taking immediate steps to rectify it.

At its meeting Tuesday night, the board stoically listened to a list of complaints, many of them echoing concerns repeatedly raised at three public focus groups conducted by the new library director, Shawn Fields, over the past month. The board was questioned about the decision to move quickly to formulate proposed changes to the reference department — changes that were highly unpopular at the focus groups; the precipitous departure of a respected and popular reference librarian who had her position eliminated and her job description changed; the “take-it-or-leave” attitude of the board members who back the library director; and even questions about how the board decided to hire Mr Fields in the first palce. Did the entire board vote on the appointment or just the top officers? What was the vote?

After its embarrassing dressing down Tuesday evening by many people who have in the past been among the Booth Library’s biggest supporters, the Board of Trustees quickly turned to its regular agenda of business for the remainder of the open portion of its meeting, before going into a closed session for some unspecified reason. There were no answers to questions, no response to public remarks, and no promise to provide either at some point in the future.

The library Board of Trustees and the new library director may believe that by lying low and not making any more waves for a while they can ride out the storm and carry on down the road with at least the appearance of circumspection. They should remember, however, that the people of Newtown who have made up the backbone of support for the Booth Library across the decades have been passionate in that support of the institution. And theirs is a passion that is not likely to flag, especially when they believe the traditions and spirit of their beloved library are at stake.

The Booth Library trustees have to respond to the questions and criticisms that have been leveled at both the board and its library director in recent weeks. If they reject the criticisms, they should say so and explain why. If they accept that they have problems, they should explain what they intend to do to address them. Silent, watchful waiting, however, is not an acceptable response.

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