This is the Life: Creston library situation a matter of trust

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Since the Creston and District Public Library board quietly terminated the employment of chief librarian Ann Day about six weeks ago, I have fielded more calls and questions about the situation than I can recall ever getting on a single topic.

In April I was delivered the news personally by a board member, possibly because of my friendship with Day. Other library members and volunteers weren’t extended the same courtesy. They learned by word of mouth as word slowly spread.

While I was shocked by the decision, I explained to everyone who asked that the library board, like all employers, is bound by law not to talk about personnel issues except in the very broadest sense. I also explained that I know a number of the directors personally (some as friends) and the rest by reputation, and I couldn’t imagine that they hadn’t acted in any other way than what they believed was in the best interests of the library.

Day’s dismissal hit me hard because she is a good friend and has operated a library that I thoroughly enjoy visiting. I think she expected to be in her position until she retired and the thought that she might have to leave our community to find suitable employment did, and still does, make me ill.

The overriding fact of the matter, though, is that I, like everyone else except board members and Day herself, have no direct knowledge of the issues that led directors to what must have been a gut-wrenching decision.

After weeks of listening to angry people asking questions for which I had no answers, I asked the board chair to provide a public comment. From another director, I received a terse two-sentence reply that we printed in the Advance. A while later, in response to another request for information, I learned that the board had set a mid-September date for the library’s annual general meeting.

Now, I don’t like the fact that the AGM has been delayed, ostensibly so that a new librarian can be hired and given some time to settle in. It leaves a perception among some that the board is more interested in completing an agenda than in fulfilling it’s primary responsibility, which is to represent its members. To be fair, though, the explanation I was provided by the board chair is not unreasonable. A new union contract wasn’t signed until the end of March and the board then turned its full attention to the library’s management, which it concluded wasn’t acceptable.

I like to think I would have bit the bullet and pushed to hold the AGM as soon as possible if I was on the board. Even though the directors are volunteers and are assumed to have the best interests of the organization at heart, they are still accountable to the membership. You have made a difficult decision, now stand up before library members and let them have their say, was my recommendation. Unless there are resignations from directors who don’t want to complete their terms in office, only about half of the elected directors — there are seven and an eighth is appointed by Creston town council — can be defeated in any one year. My guess is that by standing up at the AGM and presenting themselves as competent, concerned and diligent people, much of the anger I have heard will be diffused.

Being a volunteer director is usually a very fulfilling role, at least in my experience. It is an opportunity to guide and shape an organization and to ensure it fills an important gap in a community. Attracting directors, though, isn’t always easy. Only a small portion of any community is attracted by the notion of sitting in meetings, going through the often dry process of overseeing an organization’s policies and determining its direction. Directors are often recruited with a promise that “it’s only one meeting a month and there isn’t much work involved.” Then, when big issues come up, like negotiating union contracts and replacing managers, the position’s demands change considerably.

That the current library board has gone through its present term without a resignation is testament to the commitment of the directors and they deserve, if not our agreement with their decision, our respect. Only at an AGM will they learn whether they also have our trust.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.