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Area libraries discussing what went wrong

January 25, 2018

By Sarah Sobanski

Back-to-back-to-back resignations by North Hastings library CEOs have left the community wondering how it can better support its libraries. To do that, it first has to ask what factors contribute to the area’s high turnover rate and how best to address them.

In October, former Wollaston Public Library CEO Carolyn Henderson resigned due to “personal reasons,” according to a Wollaston Public Library report made to Wollaston council Nov. 14. Bancroft This Week has been unable to reach her for comment.

Former Bancroft Public Library CEO Chris Stephenson left in November because he said he felt council wasn’t working with the library to meet its needs – neither in terms of infrastructure nor financially. He said the library was the last inaccessible library in southern Ontario and that long-term staff members at the library were making less than what the town offered to pay for a new receptionist/admin assistant.

The last resignation, effective Jan. 5, came when former Hastings Highlands Public Library CEO Kim McMunn said she had to look after her health. A letter from the library board chair Kathy Irwin to Hastings Highlands council suggested McMunn’s resignation, and her own, were due to lack of support from members of council. At the time the board was the subject of controversy after discovering a more than $30,000 surplus fund.

Southern Ontario Library Service library development consultant Peggy Malcolm said she had never seen a “falling apart of the libraries” to the “extent” it had happened in North Hastings.

“It’s happened before, usually it’s about communication. Often we can fix it but not always… It works both ways, where a new CEO comes in and isn’t sure where the lines are — and the lines aren’t as clear as they always could be — and sometimes, you get a really strong CAO who thinks… I’ll just tell them how I think they should run.”

As discussed in last week’s article “Library union proposed for area,” McMunn, who is now interim BPL CEO, met with Bancroft This Week before her resignation took effect from HHPL. She said CEOs juggle many different opinions on what the library should be doing on part-time hours.

“Everybody is pushing and pulling trying to get what they need from the service and make it accountable,” she said noting there are several competing demands to take into account including the Public Libraries Act and the Municipal Act, the municipality, board and community.

Stephenson and McMunn both listed miscommunication and mismanagement between governing bodies as factors leading to their resignation.

In Stephenson’s case, council was too disconnected from its library board. Bancroft’s Mayor Paul Jenkins maintained that the municipality had no oversight in what library staff were paid. At the same time however, the board had to go through the town to secure infrastructure upgrades or a new location, which the town wouldn’t approve without an investigation of feasibility.

Where the roles between the municipality and the library board were too fixed in Bancroft, for Hastings Highlands Public Library they may have been too convoluted. The library board was audited with the municipality. Financial records between the two weren’t clear enough for the board to realize it had a $30,000 surplus. The confusion led to blaming and distress on both sides.

SOLS CEO Barbara Franchetto said the board is meant to act as a bridge between the municipality and the library.

“If there are misunderstandings, or it’s not clear, sometimes the best thing to do is go back to the basics and actually look what the responsibilities for each [are],” she said. “You really would hope that all three parties, the councils, the boards, the library CEOs and staffs, all kind of are focused on working on improving things together.”

The recent push for libraries to be community hubs just adds to their workloads, suggested McMunn. Libraries aren’t just about books anymore. They’re relied on for information technology, community services and classes and can be stepping stones to social services for those seeking shelter or facing mental health challenges.

Franchetto agreed with McMunn that the library is pulled in many directions. She added that most were also facing limited budgets, echoing McMunn’s comments.

“Everybody has to look and say what are the priorities in my community and ensure that the services that are being delivered meet those needs. That’s certainly one way of perhaps getting to what in fact does my community want and how do I best serve it,” said Franchetto. “If you keep the community front and centre and the priority that certainly helps to define where the energy should be going.”

But the community is just one part. With so much holding it responsible, the library is caught in a constant tug-of-war that doesn’t leave much room for growth except on the personal time of its CEOs.

A less democratic system however, where fewer people have a say in their library, isn’t a viable solution. McMunn said she’s seen a CEO go unsupported by their board when the direction the CEO wanted to go wasn’t the library’s mandate and vice versa.

This is the second article in a series examining the district or union library option for North Hastings libraries and the challenges that they face. Look for the third article in an upcoming issue of Bancroft This Week.

         

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