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Library director responds
SoVaNow.com / February 19, 2014
This letter is in response to the “Lunenburg and the library” letter by Kenbridge’s Charles Rickers, printed in your February 12, 2014 edition. In that letter Mr. Rickers makes several assertions with which I disagree. I offer clarification from my perspective.
Referring to financial files, Mr. Rickers indicates: “It seems the books are kept in Mecklenburg and no one from Lunenburg checks on them.” Mecklenburg County is the fiscal agent for Southside Regional Library (SRL). Per our library trustee by-laws, the trustee chairman shall “certify all bills” and “sign and endorse all checks”, produced by SRL. Lunenburg resident Rosa Townsend serves currently as trustee chair, providing this financial responsibility. Also, financial duties of the library board of trustees, as noted in its by-laws, include the following: “To secure adequate funds”; “To approve expenditures of library funds”; “To receive gifts to the library.” The by-laws indicate that as director, my financial responsibilities are: “To prepare the budget in consultation with the board”; “To keep financial records of the library.” I provide financial records to our trustees — and to other key stakeholders like Lunenburg County Administrator Tracy Gee — as packet items for each regularly scheduled library trustees’ meeting. Library trustees’ regular meetings always include a financial report within the order of business.
Mr. Rickers also refers to changes in personnel and reorganization. Reorganization is a topic noted publicly over the past several years; it was first discussed in February 2011 at a public budget work session at Victoria Public Library (VPL). The former VPL branch supervisor retired in September 2012, soon after I asked all branch supervisors in both counties (Lunenburg and Mecklenburg) to assist in brainstorming ways to reduce expenses and generate more revenue. The VPL branch supervisor position was frozen for the remainder of fiscal year 2013. In late May 2013, I announced that SRL would begin a reorganization process, focused on Lunenburg County and designed to provide a sustainable balanced budget for the library. Part of that reorganization included the elimination of the full-time branch supervisor positions at the Ripberger (Kenbridge) Public Library (RPL) and the Victoria Public Library, effective July 1, 2013. A single Lunenburg Libraries Supervisor position was created, responsible for managing both RPL and VPL. We began advertising that new position in June 2013, and anyone was welcome to apply for it — including internal candidates. Jessie Austin-Scaff was hired as Lunenburg Libraries Supervisor in November 2013.
I supported Ms. Austin-Scaff’s efforts to intensify weeding projects that began at both Lunenburg libraries prior to her arrival. Weeding is the process of examining books, pamphlets, and various other materials and removing from the current collection those items that are out-of-date, obsolete, shabby, unusable, or unneeded duplicates. Recent weeding efforts at RPL and VPL were done in accordance with SRL’s Materials Selection Policy and Gift Policy. Mr. Rickers refers to this weeding project and SRL’s contents, indicating “… all of it belongs to the Friends of the Library.” As I understand it, no matter the funding source for the purchase of library contents, the owner is the regional library system. Therefore, when items are purchased by Friends groups, they are considered gifts and become the property of SRL. The gifts section of our Materials Selection Policy indicates: “All gifts are subject to the following limitations: 1.) The library retains unconditional ownership of the gift. 2.) The library makes the final decision on its own use or other disposition of the gift. 3.) The library reserves the right to decide the conditions of display, housing, and access to materials.” Southside Regional Library’s contents’ value and accumulated depreciation are documented each year in the annual audit; this includes assets such as furniture, equipment, and books for all of our locations combined. Some stakeholders in Lunenburg County, like Mr. Rickers, are concerned about our recent weeding efforts. I have received written documentation of weeding-related concerns from both Lunenburg Friends of the Library groups, and I am preparing to respond thoughtfully to their concerns in writing.
Mr. Rickers also refers to freedom of speech in the context of SRL trustee Karen Scales appearing before the Lunenburg County Board of Supervisors with concerns — including those on weeding — on January 9, 2014. I hold freedom of speech in extremely high regard; after all, public libraries are storehouses for a variety of opinions and are protectors of intellectual freedoms. In discussing her appearance at the Lunenburg Board of Supervisors’ meeting with Mrs. Scales, I acknowledged respectfully her freedom of speech rights to speak as one individual. I shared that I would have preferred she worked her concerns first more thoroughly through SRL’s chain of communication process, which outlines activities like arranging a meeting between library trustees and a Board of Supervisor member or calling in a facilitator as last resorts.
Mr. Rickers ends his letter by comparing relocations of RPL and Boydton Public Library (BPL)/SRL Headquarters (HQ). He writes: “Lunenburg moved everything from one building to another and didn’t charge the library system anything. The Friends did all the work and Ms. Lambert, when they made a move from the main office to another building charged up $40,000 dollars. Seems to me she has an open-end checkbook.” RPL is unique in that its building is owned and maintained by its Friends of the Library group. BPL/SRL HQ does not have a Friends group. The County of Mecklenburg owns the current and former locations of BPL/SRL HQ. After occupying the former location — often known as the Bruce building — since 1939, BPL/SRL HQ moved to a newer facility, often known as the Old Hudgins Court facility — in spring 2012. Mecklenburg County generously paid for approximately $35,000.00 in new library shelving, as much of the shelving in the Bruce building was built-in. It also paid to replace columns at the front of the Hudgins facility, for interior painting and renovations of the current library building in Boydton, and it provided county maintenance staff to assist in moving. SRL did pay some expenses for the move: $1,125.00 in information technology/computer services for moving the server and checking related lines, allocated as shared administrative costs to both counties in our financial reports, as the Boydton location houses administrative offices and a server that monitors staff computers at all branches; $538.32 in additional part-time employee coverage, booked solely to Mecklenburg in our financial reports, as the part-timer is a BPL employee; $2,537.32 for a book return/drop, purchased in its entirety with a donation from a Boydton family; a “people counter”, costing $162.33, booked entirely to the Mecklenburg portion of our budget as a Boydton-based direct expense; in addition, we paid $332.00 in installation fees with Comcast for cable ($250.00) and Verizon for phone ($82.00); these were booked as follows: Half to Boydton Public Library in the Mecklenburg portion of our budget as direct branch-based costs and half to SRL — the latter as shared administrative costs between the two counties with Lunenburg paying 28% and Mecklenburg 72% — a formula based on population. I believe this documentation shows SRL’s accountability, transparency, and fiduciary responsibility.
Mr. Rickers also refers to County Supervisors Glenn Barbour and Wayne Hoover. I believe that both Supervisor Barbour and Supervisor Hoover have been very diligent in their roles and responsibilities and very mindful of the roles and responsibilities of library trustees and library director. For example, both Mr. Barbour and Mr. Hoover seem very aware that SRL trustees determine library policy and hire a trained librarian to serve as the primary administrator for the library system. I am grateful to serve in that capacity, aiming to continue to help SRL live out its vision to “encourage a love of learning and access to technology in a helpful, peaceful, creative environment to foster growth and development for all individuals” — in both counties.
In closing, 2014 marks SRL’s 70th anniversary as Virginia’s oldest regional library system. SRL, despite experiencing a variety of challenges over the past seven decades, has continued its mission to function as an essential part of its communities, providing “materials and services to help residents obtain information meeting their educational, vocational, cultural, personal, and recreational needs.” I see challenges as opportunities for continual improvement and enhancement, and I hope that current challenges will serve to strengthen SRL.
Southside Regional Library Director