At the meeting of the Board of Trustees of the C.H. Booth Library on Tuesday, October 8, board members returned to regular board business after weeks of addressing the short and controversial tenure of its recently departed library director. The meeting this week, however, did touch on some issues that have been of recent concern to members of the public.
Three focus group meetings in August and the September Board of Trustees meeting drew large crowds expressing displeasure with proposed changes at the library, the leadership of newly appointed library director Shawn Fields, and the board’s process in selecting Mr Fields.
Mr Fields resigned September 16, after just 11 weeks in that position.
The C.H. Booth Library is currently without a director and the board has opted to not appoint an acting director, relying instead on a process that brings library department heads and members of the Board of Trustees together on a weekly basis to address concerns outside of day-to-day operations.
A search process committee is looking into the best manner in which to approach finding a new director for the library, in response to public perception that the process in hiring the most recent library director was flawed.
Following a brief presentation on the Turkey Trot Thanksgiving Day fundraiser by race director Michael Beaudry, the board recognized Judge William Lavery during the public participation portion of the meeting.
Judge Lavery, a Board of Trustees Emeritus member, strongly advised the board to reassess the decision to not hire an acting director.
“It’s Library Science 101. Librarians run libraries,” said Judge Lavery, adding that the board should devote 100 percent of its time to seeking a new head director, rather than active involvement in running the library.
He admonished the board for what he sees as a faulty hiring practice the last time around. “With more time and with more people [involved in the hiring process], you might have found out that [Mr Fields] was not popular in Huntington,” said Judge Lavery. (Mr Fields was library director of the Huntington Branch of the Shelton Library for five years prior to his appointment to the C.H. Booth Library.)
Judge Lavery pointed out that when the architect was hired for the expansion of the C.H. Booth Library in the early 1990s, the entire board was involved in the interview process, resulting, he said, in the selection of a highly qualified person.
In focusing on the selection of a new library director, Judge Lavery asked the board to consider a person who is not a fundraiser, and someone with a sense of humanity. “We need someone who is not a technocrat,” said Judge Lavery, but rather someone who will be loved by the community.
“We need a librarian who won’t use this position as a stepping stone,” he said. In losing reference librarian Andrea Zimmerman, who opted not to accept the position of head of reference when her then-position was eliminated through a new job description created by Mr Fields, “We lost a valuable part of our staff. I’d hate to see any more leave,” Judge Lavery said.
“Librarians are part of our community,” he stressed, and reiterated that the board must apply all of its attention to the hiring process, setting policy, and dealing with finances, and leave the running of the library to an acting library director and staff.
Judge Lavery also said he would like to see the board address the issue of the library’s standing as a town library “treated like a private agency.”
Vice President of the Board of Trustees John Trentacosta responded to Judge Lavery’s comments, saying the board “certainly will discuss all of your suggestions.” (Those suggestions will be added to the agenda of the next board meeting for discussion, Mr Trentacosta noted, after the meeting.)
The board also heard an update from search process committee member Michael Talluto, who said that the committee is in a fact-finding phase and speaking to community members for input on the framework. He hoped to present findings at the next meeting that would define the search process.
Michelle Rosenthal said later in the evening that she had talked with a representative of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, as discussed at the September 24 special meeting, regarding training sessions for public boards. There is a possibility that other town boards might be interested in board training, she said, and that planning for a future session is in the preliminary stages.
Beryl Harrison, current assistant director of the C.H. Booth Library, said that Andy Forsyth has been hired as head of the reference department. She also said that the library has been offered a piece of art and history. That piece is a portion of the wooden flagpole from the center of Main Street that was taken down in 1950.
Board member and Town Historian Dan Cruson elaborated on the offering, and recommended that the library accept the donation.
The library has also received a painting from former Newtown Middle School art teacher Doris Gorton, said Ms Harrison, depicting the back of the late Newtown artist Harry Wood’s house.
The board discussed Ms Harrison’s suggestion that instead of a proposed half time reference librarian position, a circulation supervisor be hired. Ms Harrison, currently supervising circulation, would return to part-time work in the reference department, where she worked prior to reassignment this summer. She would retain her position as assistant director, as well.
In other business, the board voted to rebuild two heating/cooling pumps for the building at a price of $5,000, at the recommendation of board member Tom D’Agostino. New pumps have been priced at $12,000 apiece, a cost the library does not need to incur at this time, said Mr D’Agostino.
Ted Meehan was appointed as a new member of the Board of Trustees, bringing the total number of board members to 15. The board is still seeking a Republican appointee from the Town of Newtown, as well as two more board appointed members to complete the roster.
It was discussed that people with marketing, public relations, fundraising, and/or human resources experience would be valuable to round out the membership of the board.
Before adjourning, board member Mary Kelley asked Ms Harrison if things at the library were “running smoothly.” Ms Harrison responded that they were, “more or less. Everybody knows what their job is,” she said, and any questions would be brought up at the next weekly meeting of the department heads and board members. Ms Harrison said that the staff did like the process of the weekly meetings between board and department heads.
In attendance at the October 8 meeting were board members Colleen Honan, Michael Talluto, Mary Kelley, Peter Stern, Tom D’Agostino, Bill McCarthy, Michelle Rosenthal, Dan Cruson, Jennifer Reilly, Vice President John Trentacosta, Trustees Emeriti Mary Thomas and Judge William Lavery, and assistant library director Beryl Harrison.
The next regular board meeting of the Board of Trustees of the C.H. Booth Library is scheduled for Tuesday, November 9, at 7 pm, in the meeting room of the C.H. Booth Library. The public is welcome to attend board meetings.