I have been following the news about the Rockingham Free Public Library and the firing of its Director Celina Houlne in the newspapers and on FACT TV with incredulity, dismay, sadness, and anger.
I was the RFPL library director from 1979 to 1985 when I resigned to become the founding Director of Library Services at Landmark College where I worked for 11 years until my retirement. I have met Ms. Houlne only two or three times when she first was hired, but when I visited the library she was friendly, cordial and enthusiastic as she gave me a tour of the damage to the building caused by neglect over the years from water and mold. I was excited as she described the plans to completely restore and improve the building. She seemed energetic, intelligent, capable, very hardworking, and positive. She seems to have the confidence and friendship of the other staff members.
Later I was appalled by the financial crash of the main contractor hired for renovations. I began watching the televised meetings of the Board of Trustees and was disturbed by the unprofessional conduct of the meetings with everyone talking at once and wondered if any of the board was listening to any of the others. At once point I heard one of the women on the board say that Ms. Houlne is "stupid." Obviously that is not true, and I wondered how she could say such a thing, especially on television. Anyone who can balance planning for the new building, the moving of all of the library's resources twice, and researching and writing reports, while supervising the library staff, working with trustees, and still providing excellent service and many programs is not stupid.
My predecessor, Muriel Thomas who served 43 years, and I served a much smaller collection, staff, and budget, and even that was a "big deal." Never did we have arguments with the dignified Board of Trustees of that time. Even though I knew that I would be resigning, I persuaded the Board of Trustees to have the neglected library paint changed outside and inside to an off-white paint, bought new steel adjustable shelving, had a wheelchair ramp and chairlift added, and brightened up the first floor.
Simmons College Graduate School of Library Service in its Library Administration course used true case studies of problems, and we students read them and wrote papers to offer solutions to be discussed by the class. The problems of this Board of Trustees with many of them acting so unprofessionally, making hasty decisions based upon wrong or incomplete information is appalling and would make a wonderful example of what not to do. Boards of trustees are not supposed to micromanage every detail of the library.
In watching the hearings requested by Ms. Houlne after being summarily fired I was impressed as staff, former employees, former trustees, volunteers, and Friends of the Library, and library patrons came forward to testify in her defense. Some of the trustees appeared to be vindictive, angry, silly , immature, and illogical regarding their statements about their reasons for the firing and there was even character assassination involved. By the end of the hearing when Ms. Houlne explained calmly and logically all of the situations I thought surely all of this exposure would cause the members of the Board of Trustees to change their minds, apologize, and graciously reinstate her. I find it very hard to believe that they did not do so.
They have been cavalier with the lives of the director, the other staff people, and one another. I believe that it will be a very long time and very difficult to find another librarian of her fine caliber to replace her. Who would want to work under such conditions? I believe that after all of her hard work Celina Houlne should be allowed to stay and reap the rewards of working in the fine new building. Although I do not live in Rockingham, I am related to early settlers and prominent people of the town, the Webb Family, and I would like to see Rockingham succeed.
I suggest that at the next election, the citizens look very carefully at how this matter has been handled and vote a few of the trustees out of office and vote in reasonable people.
Robert Hunt Rhodes was the director of the Rockingham Free Public Library for six years. He lives in Westminster.