No one had to be quiet at the library Saturday, as a large crowd gathered to speak out against the decision to layoff eleven employees at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum library.
"The primary mission of this building was to be a public library. That is the first thing listed in their mission statement. And what they seem to forget is that the first thing they have taken right out and they are focusing on the thing listed third in their mission statement, an art gallery. This is a public library first and they need to remember that," said Marti Fiske, a member of the Rural Librarians Unite.
The Rural Librarians Unite (RuLU) group was partly organized in response to the Athenaeum layoffs. The group rallied Vermonters to speak out against the Board of Trustees and join hand-in-hand, hugging the building. "The libraries today are not the place that you remember when you went to them as a child," Fiske said. "We are not the quiet places anymore. We are the community centers. We provide services that are beyond the old books. We do everything today that anyone could need."
"These are some of the most certified trained wonderful people I know," said Beth Kanell an author and St. Johnsbury resident. She said she's brought her children to the library for years and has watched the staff at the Athenaeum grow over time. "It's a heartbreak," she said. "These are people I trust to lead me to information, help me evaluate the information, be there for me when I have needs for information as a citizen, as a mom, and as a grand mom."
Bill Marshall, Chair of the St. Johnsbury Board of Trustees, said there are concrete reasons for the Board's decision. "We have the same goal as the demonstrators -- we meaning the board and the staff -- of having a vital and essential library service. In that sense, we share what is probably being expressed today. We are taking these steps to be sure we can preserve and enhance the original vision for Athenaeum. And if we don't make these changes, the Athenaeum, in our opinion, is in jeopardy," he said.
Marshall said the goals of the Board are to increase revenues, reduce expenses and reconfigure staffing. That being said, he respects the group hug demonstration but stands by the board's decision. "It's a challenge handling the layoffs. Athenaeum isn't unique to these challenges. I would say this is even more than a national challenge, this is a global challenge of how libraries are going to meet the needs of today's patron and into the future," Marshall said.
While the layoffs are not in effect until February 1, 2013, protesters hope the Board will reconsider.
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