New Library Director Faces Criticism, Concern At Forum

Photo: Andrew Gorosko

Booth Library Director Shawn Fields makes a point at a Saturday, August 24, public forum that was held at the library to solicit public opinion for a vision statement on the library’s  goals.  

During a sometimes contentious 90-minute forum held on Saturday, August 24, to discuss planning goals for C.H. Booth Library, a number of library patrons, unhappy with changes already made, urged the library’s new director to slow the pace of change at the 25 Main Street facility since he recently arrived as its new administrator.     

About 35 residents attended the session held in the library’s public meeting room. It was the second forum in a series of three such gatherings. The third forum is slated for 7 pm on Tuesday, August 27, at the library; the first was earlier this month, on August 15.

The sessions are intended to allow residents to share their vision for town library, including what they like, don’t like, and would like to see in the future regarding local library service.

On July 1, Shawn Fields replaced Janet Woycik as library director. Ms Woycik had held that position for more than 30 years.

“A library is a very collaborative entity,” Mr Fields explained at the beginning of Saturday’s session.

Library officials need to be coordinated in terms of the goals they will pursue for the institution during the coming three years, he said. Thus, a “vision statement” must be formulated to express those goals, he said.

Many of the residents attending acknowledged that the role of public libraries is changing in response to a changing world.

Those residents stressed that what has made Booth Library unique is the effort made by library staff members to help the patrons. Consequently, they urged that changes not come too rapidly to the library.

“I don’t make any unilateral decisions, ever,” Mr Fields said, explaining that he consults with staff members before making changes.

The goals of the library, which will be expressed in the vision statement, will be formulated during the next several months through consultation with the public, he said.

“We are listening to people,” Mr Fields said.

Resident Kenneth Lerman urged that Mr Fields study local demographics, including population changes, as well as changes in technology in developing a vision statement.

Mr Fields agreed on the importance of demographic patterns, adding that it is unclear whether the 12/14 shooting incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School would result in an increase or decease in local population.

Resident Joan Nash asked why library staff members did not attend the August 24 forum.

Mr Fields responded that staffers already had provided their views to him on the library’s future.

Ms Nash asked whether Mr Fields had consulted with a professional counselor regarding the “severe trauma” effects that people may be experiencing in the 12/14 aftermath.

The director responded that his wife is a professional counselor, adding that he is familiar with such matters.

“It’s been a really, really challenging year,” Mr Fields said of the 12/14 incident. The library staff’s emotional needs will be considered in view of that, he said.

The director said he has been listening to library staff members’ emotional concerns and is working to develop ways to best address those concerns.

One man attending the forum told Mr Fields that he should wait another six months before making any major changes at the library. The man spoke in light of some recent personnel changes at the library.

Mr Fields declined to discuss specific personnel changes that have been made.

To address a disparity in staff payment, a number of “pay classes” have been established for library workers, Mr Fields noted. Also, the library’s job descriptions need to be improved, he said.


Criticism Voiced

Resident Sydney Eddison told Mr Fields, “I care very, very much about the library … It isn’t about the building.”

“This library does what it does very well,” she said, stressing that the library staff does a “wonderful job” in serving the patrons.

The staff is notable in that it really cares about serving the public, Ms Eddison said.

“It makes me so angry to have some young person sweep in” and make big changes, she said. “This library is good as is,” she added.

“You’re very lucky to be here,” she said of Mr Fields’ having been hired as library director. Ms Eddison’s comment was met with some applause.

William Lavery, a member emeritus of the library board, told Mr Fields, “I would open the library on Sundays again.” Mr Lavery also urged that reference librarians be positioned on the third floor where certain reference materials are kept.

“This is a place that I love. This is a place that I don’t want … changes,” Mr Lavery said.

 Mr Lavery also urged that Mr Fields sit down and talk to a recently departed reference librarian to resolve some differences.

“This is the ‘town’ library,” Mr Lavery stressed, noting the institution’s relationship to the town government.

“One of my most important jobs is securing funding,” Mr Fields said, noting that a strategic plan for the library would clearly state the institution’s goals.

Resident Denise Kaiser said that the library’s annual used book sale is a fundraiser that “can raise only so much money.” Ms Kaiser said she would attend Legislative Council meetings, if needed, to seek public funding for the library.

Resident Laura Lerman directly asked Mr Fields whether any library staff layoffs or firings are planned.

“No,” Mr Fields replied.


The Director’s  View

One man asked Mr Fields to describe his ideas for the library’s future.

“We have a fantastic building…Are we making the best use of this?” Mr Fields asked.

He suggested that more public meetings spaces be created. Mr Fields also said that security issues concerning staff safety and the safety of library holdings need to be addressed.

The library also should have an increased presence on the Internet, he said.

“We should be circulating e-readers,” he said. The library staff receives many technology-related questions about e-readers, he noted.

Ms Nash cautioned Mr Fields that “it’s easy to destroy trust,” adding that she thinks that the library staff does not support him as director.

That trust was damaged recently when a library position was eliminated, she said.

At a resident’s urging, Mr Fields described his professional background, explaining his work experience.

As the session concluded, a resident told Mr Fields that it was good to have the forum because it resulted in better understanding among those present.

Following the session, Mr Fields noted that those at the forum expressed strongly held views. The library director said he would take the advice that was given in seeking a course as the library moves into the future.

More stories like this: C.H. Booth Library, Shawn Fields
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