Swanton Library Reopens with Rehired Staff; Trustees Resign

Posted Friday, January 15, 2010 - 12:56

Facing widespread criticism for its firing of the library staff, the entire board of trustees of the Swanton (Vt.) Public Library resigned January 12 after ratifying a year’s worth of decisions it had made in apparent violation of the state’s Open Meeting Law.

The following morning the town’s governing selectboard rehired the four staff members, and the library, which had closed in the absence of staff January 5, reopened at 1:00 p.m. Director Marilyn Barney told American Libraries that the library served more than 40 people that day, “which is big for us”—25 to 53 is more typical, she said—and that “we were given hugs, we had vases of flowers” from residents. Barney called the community support during the controversy “gratifying.” 

At its January 12 meeting, which drew a crowd of about 100 residents, the library trustees emerged from a brief executive session and ratified their prior decisions, covering matters ranging from the firing of the library staff to installing WiFi in the library, the St. Albans (Vt.) Messenger reported January 13.

After the ratification vote, community members voiced complaints that the library was inhospitable toward children—a sentiment that library trustees expressed in an undated memo to Barney. Area resident Sarah Nielson said that whenever she had come to the library with her children, she had “left feeling like we were not welcomed.” The trustees’ proposal to cut the salaries of existing staff 15% in order to hire a part-time children’s librarian was one of the issues leading to the firing of Barney and assistant librarians Jody Martin, Cheryl Messler, and Dorothy Blondo.

Selectboard Chairman Harold Garrett said the selectmen had decided “it was in the best interests of the community to get the library back open.” The selectboard announced plans to appoint temporary library trustees who will serve until Swanton residents elect a new library board at the annual town meeting, which will be held on the first Tuesday of March.

Although Barney declined to comment on the trustees’ actions other than to call them “unfortunate,” she told American Libraries “we were all mainly concerned with the library being down,” noting that “nothing had been taken care of for two weeks . . . . We’re just glad that it’s open again.”