Friends help after library resignations

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WARDSBORO — Following the resignation of library staff members over reopening plans, volunteers will temporarily serve patrons.

At the board of trustees' emergency meeting held last week to discuss the resignations and future plans, a proposal from volunteers with the Friends of Wardsboro Library was accepted to offer takeout services until a new library director is hired.

Via Facebook last week, the Friends of Wardsboro Library thanked library director Jill Dean, former children's librarian Jenn Finaldi and former library assistant Nancy Dawson "for their many years of dedication to the Wardsboro Library." The nonprofit owns the Gloria Danforth Memorial Building, which houses the library.

"From the original purchase 20-plus years ago, through many renovations, and the current maintenance, it has been the Friend's mission to provide a first rate library facility for the community and to raise money to cover all yearly maintenance of the building as well as the utility expenses," Paul Spector, chairman of the group, said in an email response to the Reformer. "As the library trustees proceed with their search for a new director and their efforts to provide safe, limited services in the interim, the Friends will continue to make sure that the building is maintained and utility bills paid. While our fundraising efforts (like the Gilfeather Turnip Festival and our annual Plant Sale) have been cancelled due to the pandemic, the Friends are committed to continuing our financial support. In addition, individuals on the Board of Directors have offered their assistance as needed until a new library director is hired."

All of the volunteers have completed Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration training related to working during the coronavirus pandemic.

Patrons will be able to come inside and request items from volunteers but not browse. A plexiglass sneeze guard is up and measures will allow patrons to visit without touching anything.

The library was closed in April due to the pandemic and opened for curbside pickup in May. The trustees' plan for reopening called for implementing in-person service in July with measures to limit the number of building occupants, require face coverings, maintain 6 feet between people and follow other state health guidelines.

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That month, staff members resigned.

"In a nutshell, the three of us (staff) would not work in an 'open' library and would have liked to stay with 'curbside pickup' for the safety of patrons and staff," Dean wrote on the library's Facebook page last week. "Unfortunately, the trustees (Carol Fay, Sheri Lewis, Mark Fernandes and Bob Stupp) demand the library be open. So the library trustees will have to find someone who will work in an OPEN library."

Dean's last day is Monday. Volunteers have committed to make the library accessible within days.

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Last week, staff members and trustee Carol Backus declined to get into more specifics during phone calls with the Reformer. Additional information came by way of a statement read at the board's meeting.

"When the Vermont governor asked that businesses close due to COVID-19, the library trustees responded to this by closing to the public," said Backus, interim chairwoman of the board. "The library director continued to complete her administrative duties from home and online. In May, the governor and state library suggested minimal access to public places could resume. The library director, with the trustees' approval, initiated a 'curbside' service. This appeared to be functioning well based on some submitted statistics."

Backus said the trustees decided on a phased reopening of the library in June based on discussions with library representatives, virus reports, trustee meetings and meetings with Dean, who was "reluctant to participate in the plan as written."

"She gave medical risks as a reason and submitted a doctor's letter to substantiate this," Backus said. "A preliminary plan was presented which among other things, offered the director six hours of administrative time and an interim employee covering the 'open' library hours. Despite further discussions, agreement was not reached. This appears to have led to the director's resignation. Additionally during this time, the children's librarian and director's assistant also tendered their resignation."

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In an earlier statement, the trustees noted the challenges of the pandemic and the need to be flexible.

"The trustees remain committed to our duty to provide library services in a safe and effective manner, and ensure the best use of valuable and scarce town resources given to the library," the trustees said. "In time, we want to reopen the library to patron visits, but we want to do it safely. In the meantime, we will continue to provide alternate services that we hope meet your needs."

According to a survey conducted by the Vermont Department of Libraries, 41 out of 126 responding libraries were open to the public as of Wednesday. One reported being completely closed.

Of all the responding libraries, 70 buildings were open to staff only and 14 were offering visits by appointments. Curbside pickup was being offered at all but one.

Using state data and other information, the Vermont Library Association counted about 180 public libraries in the state as of February.

"Vermont has the most public libraries per capita of any state in the U.S.," the association said.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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