Library board should find a better way
“Pass the time?” said the Queen. “Books are not about passing the time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it. If one wanted to pass the time, one could go to New Zealand.” – “The Uncommon Reader” by Alan Bennett
Something incredible happened at the Library District board meeting on September 8th. When Lark Lands asked for a show of hands at Georgetown’s John Tomay Memorial Library of those who supported John Ewers, well over a hundred hands shot up. Two per person. At least 60 community members, from toddlers to octogenarians, crammed in to express their outrage and bewilderment about Ewers’ departure after 34 years of dedicated service.
Was Ewers terminated as he holds, or did he “choose to leave to pursue other options” as library Director Sue Lathrop has averred?
What began as a squabble escalated into a battle, and as is so often the case when emotions rule, positions were staked, and cooler heads didn’t prevail, something happened. For observers and interested parties, questions abound, and rumor and misinformation have spread. Not good.
My head operates in the world of public school governance in which every personnel move requires approval by the board of education. A superintendent only recommends to the board the hiring or firing of everyone, whether custodian or principal. The recommendation is almost always rubberstamped, but the formality assures employees their rights and livelihoods are not at the whim and mercy of one person.
In addition, the procedures are delineated in either board policy or the master contract. However, digging deeper into the weeds of the library’s bylaws and employee handbook, what I found and didn’t find was disconcerting.
In the second paragraph of the first page in uppercase letters so an employee doesn’t miss the point is a warning that ought to be printed on paper with a toxic-waste symbol watermark:
EMPLOYMENT WITH CLEAR CREEK COUNTY LIBRARY DISTRICT IS AT-WILL. EMPLOYEES HAVE THE RIGHT TO END THEIR WORK RELATIONSHIP WITH THE DISTRICT, WITH OR WITHOUT ADVANCE NOTICE FOR ANY REASON. THE DISTRICT HAS THE SAME RIGHT.
Really? Any reason? Even excluding reasons that would violate federal and state statute, the range is mindboggling. Coffee or tea?
On the other hand, what I have not found, in standard-sized font or the fine print, is a way for a library employee to redress his/her grievances—think of the First and Fourteenth Amendments—via a fair procedure.
Any sound organization’s most critical aspect is the human, those who make it work. In the case of the library, the person greeting patrons and the job he/she does is as essential as the value of the books on the shelves and the technology utilized.
Regarding the actions with not only Ewers but also other personnel moves, one must assume the Library District Board has full confidence in Lathrop and is most comfortable with her decisions.
It wouldn’t be helpful to delve into the specifics as our goal here is to note both the place of the library within the community as well as how an action such as this is more than about the actors involved. It can have and has had impact and consequences beyond the walls of the library. The outpouring of support for Ewers gives testimony to that.
The library’s Mission Statement reads, “The Clear Creek County Library District will be a centerpiece of our community, providing public library services that enhance our community through shared collections, cultural events and activities, the preservation and sharing of our county’s rich historical past, access to current and emerging technologies, and service to our democracy through the free flow of information.”
What happened at that meeting was arguably more important than what was said. It showed that while the persona of Georgetown, the image it projects, is historical, the heart of the community is the library. And that heart has been grievously wounded.
Stepping back and working anew with Ewers to find a mutually agreeable solution would demonstrate true leadership by Lathrop and the library board. Yes, Ewers is an icon, a valued treasure that deserves far better than discarded luggage. But this is more than about Ewers: It is about the heart of the Georgetown-Silver Plume-Empire community.
My hope is Lathrop and the Board put into practice that which they state is their mission and listen to the voices of those they serve.