Public library system changes draw concerns over book disposal, staff

Many books lay reportedly discarded in a dumpster outside the Newport Public Library in August. (Contributed photo)

CARTERET COUNTY — It’s been nearly two months since the Carteret County Library System began its restructuring, and the results so far have garnered mixed results from local governments and the public.

Meanwhile, one nonprofit organization isn’t pleased with the way the library system is being organized. Those concerns include book disposals and how the branches are being staffed.

The county library system began restructuring July 1 after leaving the regional library system it previously shared with the Pamlico and Craven counties.

Since the change, the Pine Knoll Shores Board of Commissioners has decided to respond to changes to the Bogue Banks branch. At the board’s Aug. 12 meeting, commissioners unanimously approved the formation of an ad hoc committee to create a formal response to the restructuring.

Town Manager Brian Kramer told the News-Times there’s “extreme disappointment in town” with the restructuring, in particular that allegedly as a result of the changes occurring “three long-time paid (library) staff members are no longer working there.”

“We want to be sure we have the same services as prior to the restructuring,” Mr. Kramer said, “or as close as possible.”

The library system has several branches throughout the county, one of them in Newport. Mayor Dennis Barber said Newport officials are hearing “plusses and minuses” on the changes occurring to their library.

“Since the 1980s, the library hasn’t belonged to the town,” Mayor Barber said. “We’ve provided them with funding and the regional system paid the rest. Newport paid more than all the other municipalities to keep the library running.”

He said prior to the restructuring, the Newport library was part of the regional system only. Now, it’s part of the county system. He also said if town officials had attempted to assume responsibility for the library, it would have resulted in a 3-cent property tax rate increase.

“I think we’re going to get a good service with the county board,” Mayor Barber said. “They’re cleaning the building, and bringing in new books and technology.”

Not everybody seems to agree with Mayor Barber, however. An Aug. 6 letter to the editor sent to the News-Times, signed by “concerned citizens for Newport Library,” said not all residents may be aware of “financial ramifications” of the withdrawal from the regional system.    

“Newport Library operated with one full-time position and six part-time positions,” the letter reads, in part. “Now several of the position are full-time with paid benefits. How is this cost effective?”

The letter goes on to question the cost effectiveness of the system’s new online catalog and scheduling software, and reports that after July 1, staff members who wanted to stay with the Newport library were required to reapply and interview for their jobs.

“These positions we held all these years are gone,” the letter reads, in part, “revised and rewritten in some kind of governmental jargon.”

Several parties have alleged the library system, since the restructuring, has been discarding many books and selling others online in a purge of catalog offerings. 

Public library system changes draw concerns over book disposal, staff

Newport Public Library facilities await reopening, as Carteret County Library system staff is reorganizing and making changes to this branch and others throughout the county. (Lesley Mason photo)

In response to such allegations, the system’s new director, Lesley Mason, told to the News-Times in June only damaged or moldy books were being discarded.

Friends of the Down East Library President Paul Austin told the News-Times his organization, as well as library staff, are “very concerned about the future of our library.”

“There have been conversations with Chris Chadwick, a county commissioner who leases space (to the library), with Lesley Mason, who said it may be a conflict of interest (to lease space to the library),” Mr. Austin said. “We don’t want to lose the space.”

State statutes generally disallow such contracts between public officials and the agencies they serve, but the state is allowing the arrangement to continue, with certain conditions, for the time being. The contract must end and the Down East Library will need to find a new home if Mr. Chadwick is reelected in November.

Mr. Austin further said he thinks Ms. Mason is “pushing to homogenize the system.”

“The patrons for the Down East branch and others are completely different,” he said. “I don’t think a one-size-fits-all approach will work.”

He also said that, much like the Newport Library, “several thousand books” had been removed from the Down East library’s collection. He said Susan Wilder, his wife and fellow member of the Friends of Down East Library, has distributed them to local organizations as much as possible.

“We’re concerned how these books will be replaced,” Mr. Austin said. “We found many unique books on Down East history that never should have been removed.”

The autonomy of the Down East library is another concern for Mr. Austin and his organization. He said the library is under new management, and when he asked the new manager a question, she deferred to Ms. Mason.

“I’m very concerned the way things are going,” Mr. Austin said. “It’s just not been handled well. We weren’t ready by July 1 when the transition occurred.”

Ms. Mason said in an email Monday to the News-Times while there have been new hires in the library system, there haven’t been any changes to staffing levels.

“Staff was hired to the Carteret County Public Library on July 1 and they were assigned locations based on their job classification, demonstrated knowledge skills and abilities as indicated from the application and interview process, as well as indicated location preference,” she wrote. “Since July 1, no staff has been reassigned; there haven’t been any staffing changes with the county library, aside from new hires. No one has been transferred (to a different branch) under the Carteret County Library. It would be disingenuous to speculate on future staffing.”

Ms. Mason also said no one has been fired.

As to the matter of book disposal, Ms. Mason said the reasons haven’t changed.

“We’ve been doing this work at all locations. We’re now working on Newport. A vast majority of the items being discarded are in poor condition,” she claimed. “For example, items that qualify for discard would have missing pages, mold, broken spines, reference material that is out of date, etc.”

Ms. Mason said the library system is using several options for discards.

“We’re still looking for more appropriate homes for some items when possible,” she wrote. “We’re utilizing the Better World Book program for most of our discards.

“We also work with the FOL (Friends of Libraries) groups on items that might qualify for a used book sale. That’s tough since most books are in poor condition and wouldn’t be suitable for book sales. Also, at many branches there are storage units that needed to be cleared out of old furniture, most of it broken or in extreme disrepair or items not appropriate for use by patrons. This work is ongoing.”

 

Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

(11) comments

Scooter97

I frequented the Newport Library and never saw any books in such a state that it needed to be destroyed. But to throw them in a dumpster is a shame...they may as well put them in a pile and set them on fire!!! Total waste!

mpjeep

Looks like The Original Letter To The Editor, may bring about some changes. At least it brings awareness to the powers that be.

EEFdingbatters

It sounds like since the Carteret County library left the old region there were some major restructuring with staff and policies, which is pretty normal for most businesses. But people can get emotional and I understand why some of the longtime government employees are upset. However, it seems that people's feelings have gotten out of hand, and I'm sure the lock-down doesn't help. People need to calm down and at least wait until they're ABLE to reopen before jumping to conclusions.

PatrickJones

Based on the experience of folks in her previous county, what you are in the process of learning about your new library director is that a) she makes a good first impression, she seems like such a nice person and comes across as very smart and likeable, b) she actually doesn't care what anyone else thinks about anything - it will take a while before you fully understand this, but she is going to do exactly what she wants to do, and may or may not pretend to consult with anyone else about it, least of all community members, and c) one day you'll be picking up the pieces after she has wrecked what was once a well-functioning library system. Meanwhile, she’ll move on to another county (or state, I hope) far from yours, taking over someone else's functioning library system, determined to make the kind of changes that she dreams about -- which is simply a library system where she gets to fire everyone, "hire all new people who will be loyal to" her, and implement whatever disruptive scheme that strikes her fancy at the time, as long as she can leave someone else holding the bag a few years down the line. But like I said, she seems like such a nice person that you can hardly believe what’s happening, until you’re standing there in the ruins of your once great library. Have you ever noticed that the only people who are ever fired for incompetence are lower level staff? An incompetent library director can remain in place for years – and this will likely be the case for your library system. If your county commissioners care about your libraries, they will supervise their new library director. And ask questions. She will hate it. But she might move on to her next challenge sooner.

In response to the article on the library system published August 31, 2020:

There are so many problems with the claims in this article that we do not know where to begin…perhaps with the caption under the dumpster photograph. It states that “Many books lay Reportedly Discarded” … the word “reportedly” is particularly irksome to us. You are looking at the photograph; the books were thrown into an open dumpster and then rained on. There is no “reportedly” about it. Further pictures are available, a few taken this evening, of even more books recently added.

Regarding a quote concerning “pluses and minuses” on the changes, we have heard not one single “plus” from anyone we have spoken to and we would be very interested in hearing a list of these “pluses”. Newport did always contribute more than the other towns to maintain their library and it was a point of pride, not complaint. We highly doubt keeping the library as a town facility would have necessitated a 3% tax rate increase and would love to see the justification for this figure. Had there been an increase, as far as we have heard, the citizens of Newport would have been more than willing to absorb this cost. It is hurtful to former staff to hear that those in authority with the town feel that it is “good service” when we have stated clearly, both in previous letters and in person, how detrimental the whole process has been and have picture proof of a monumental waste of money in throwing books away.

The use of the word “alleged” in this article is concerning. It is not being “alleged that books are being discarded or sold online”; it is Happening, right now, and we have pictures to prove it. Additionally, as stated in our previous letter, we were the ones having to pull the books off the shelf to be sent to Better World Books. Nothing “alleged” about it.

The comment from the current director about “allegations” is also false. These are not allegations, these are facts. The books discarded were not damaged and moldy. We have some of them and can prove it. Since the rain had gotten to them because they were thrown in an open dumpster, yes, some are wet Now. They were Not when they went In the dumpster. We never kept damaged books in our collection. What is particularly disgusting about this, other than why ANYONE involved with libraries would mistreat books in such a manner, is that we were never given any other option. We are glad that Mr. Paul Austin of the Down East Friends was able to redistribute the books thrown out at their branch. We know of no such option made at Newport. Down East was able to save their local history books; we left ours on the shelf, trusting that the new administration would never discard such items. In Caldwell County where the new director came from, she had no respect for local history there either, as shown by editorial responses and social media. In what world does a library, tasked with being the storehouse of knowledge, throw away such items? We are supposed to be the caretakers of history.

No one is allowed in the building except county employees, so our Friends were not allowed to save any of the discarded material for their book sale. Why does that make sense, when book sales make money for libraries? Why is Better World Books making money online selling material that could have raised money for our own local library? It is almost as if someone is getting a kickback from that company. And what a shame to treat those willing to volunteer their time in such a manner.

As to the claim that items qualifying for discard had “missing pages, mold, broken spines, reference material that is out of date”, the only part of that statement that is true is the reference material. Certainly, there are times that libraries must weed out reference and nonfiction materials that are truly dated, particularly medical and technology subjects. This is not the case here. The books were in plain view in the dumpster over the course of a week. They are out there in the rain tonight. This whole explanation from the director is false. We have to wonder how closely this person was vetted by the county manager and commissioners. As stated earlier, word has it from Caldwell County that she had no respect for their library and that is certainly being proven in Carteret County. We have to wonder if the commissioners have seen the new book budget; how much money will it take to replenish these decimated collections? And what out-of-print local history information is now gone forever?

As to storage units with “broken” items or “items not appropriate for use by patrons”, this is also untrue as far as the Newport storage unit was concerned. First of all, why would one pay to store broken items? Our storage was full of plastic bins with holiday decor and themed children’s program items. Since the budget was very small, certain items were kept from year to year to decorate the library and to use in story times. Pirate eye patches sealed in their packages to give out to the children, plastic buckets and shovels for the beach theme, Easter eggs and baskets for the annual egg hunt, jingle bells for the “Polar Express” party, etc. These items were Not broken or in “extreme disrepair” and certainly not inappropriate for our young patrons. This process was thrifty and smart and apparently, the new system is neither.

As to the claim that no staff was reassigned and none were fired, that is also false. One of the staff members at Newport Library was basically told they could be reassigned to the Beaufort branch on a “probationary” basis, no guarantees, or they had to drive to New Bern and turn in their retirement papers. The second staff member was fired, plain and simple. She was handed boxes to pack up her belongings. Several staff from Beaufort were moved to Down East and several from Western were moved to Newport. One lasted less than a month at Newport. Staff members have been fired, reassigned, and made to travel to work in different branches, just as we described in our first letter. Anything claimed otherwise is false and an attempt to cover up the destruction that has been forced on what used to be a wonderful library system. It is a true shame that no one in a position of power in our town or in this county has the courage to speak up and do something about this situation.

Concerned Citizens for Newport Library

Bookworm

Looking at all the county libraries, a pattern emerges. Ms Mason claimed that employees’ preference for which branch they would like to work in would be taken into consideration. The truth is only one person was reassigned to the same library branch and that only one third of the employees chose to remain in the system. With so many employees assigned to branches far away from their homes, sometimes adding 45 minutes to a commute, it is no wonder so many chose to refuse the position. Ms Mason’s claims that, in addition to books that were in poor condition or out dated, books are weeded only if they had not been checked out for a number of years. The truth is people who had checked books out this winter or spring and returned them before July 1 cannot find the titles in the collection anymore. Is this because NC Cardinal bases the fees for the county library on the number of items in the collection? If so, be up front. Ms Mason’s statement in the article that no one has been fired does not recognize the fact that the hostile work environment described by former Caldwell County employees is firmly in place in Carteret County and has already caused the resignation of a branch manager.

james ellis

y wife and have been frequent users of the Newport library since ay 2013. We knew all the people in the library and they knew us. We had become friends and received superb service. Now the new system. If it is so great please give us the names of 5 people who do not work for the town or county who think that the changes are positive. Names and phone No. please . Only five but I bet you can't do it.If our new dirrector is so wonderful, why didn't she stay where she was?

MMacCall

Change is hard. I don’t think the county knew what they were getting into by leaving a consortium where the library (materials, catalog, cleaning contracts, etc) was just handled for them.

I hate to break it to you, but books are just books. No public library is a repository for everything that they have ever purchased. Even if materials appear to be in ‘good’ condition, if they are no longer current, relevant or being checked out, then professional guidelines are used to evaluate them for discard. Glancing over that pile of junk in the photo, those books were past their prime. If there is that much weeding to do, it suggests that previous staff and administrators did not maintain your library collection. That’s something to actually be upset about.

Yes, Ms. Mason left her last job. She is allowed. She also left after receiving numerous awards including ALA’s Mover and Shaker for 2020 which is a huge honor in our profession. Organizational change is hard. Hence the bellyaching from staff, previous and current, in these comments. As an example, libraries are staffed based on operational needs and not on staff preferences. Again, this is to serve the community.

The blame should be placed on the county and not the current director. The county was ill-prepared to support a library system on their own. Full disclosure that I had the pleasure of working with Ms. Mason for several years. She is nothing but knowledgeable, professional and gives her all to serving her community. Let Ms. Mason drag you into the 21st century and you can see what library services are all about.

TheatreArtist

Whether the blame should be on County Commissioners, Ms. Mason, or as Ms. Mason indicated when spoken to: the library staff themselves should be of lesser concern than the excessive amount of WASTEFULNESS depicted. That is just ONE dumpster full. Thousands of books have been thrown out (not donated as has been repeatedly claimed) and discarded like refuse. I personally saw MANY of the books that ended up in the dumpsters and they were NOT in poor condition. Being “dragged into the 21st century” is a poor man’s excuse for what has been taking place. Our community sees value in things that are not necessarily pristine with shiny new covers. To me, to replace a book simply because you CAN get a new copy rather than NEED a new copy is utterly wasteful in an area that wasn’t broken. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!” But the many in newer generations seem to value the appearance of things more so than the function. Whether that be the physical appearance or how it “looks on paper” including resumes.

There were BOXES of perfectly fine children’s books that could have been donated to other county agencies that serve the massive needs to those less fortunate in our community. Our local rotaries have been trying to form new “Little Free Libraries” in some of these areas of need and they could have purchased/taken some of the books that were tossed—if only given the opportunities to do so. Using Covid-19 as an excuse not to follow

Proper disposal protocol is sneaky and underhanded at best. Some of the books that were deemed garbage were an entire series on The History of Aviation, many books on the Civil War, World War I and II, books about Agriculture and Animal Husbandry that don’t go out of date. They were not “damaged or moldy” as has been claimed. There were also a number of irreplaceable LOCAL history books that a concerned citizen rescued from the dumpster.

Whoever is responsible, the FOIA is about to be deployed and there will be an accounting. Hopefully you know how many books were culled, how many are going to replace them, and which non-profits and literacy programs actually received donations because the ones that I have heard people speak to so far said they were not even aware that books were coming available until recent news coverage.

We hate to break it to You, but books are much more than "just books". This is the whole problem with this new administration, devaluing the written word as well as those who loved being the guardians of it. It was made clear in the previous letters that library items in certain categories need to be weeded. No one claimed that a library is a "repository for everything" that has been purchased. We spent our last two months examining and pulling books and know what was left in the collection. Your "glancing over that pile of junk" must have come up short; you were looking at only one photograph, taken in near dark. There are plenty more. It appears that someone is pushing you to defend actions that do not deserve defending. The first night we saw the dumpster, there were books by current popular authors that we had just received as donations in the past year. This has already been explained. We, in Carteret County, knew full well how to weed before this director showed up. And, more importantly, we knew how to do it Thoughtfully. As to staffing according to operational needs rather than staff preferences, this practice has already caused some to quit and plenty to lose any interest in reapplying. It is not "serving the community" to treat loyal, longtime staff in this manner, moving them all over the county. As to your final paragraph, from what we have heard from Caldwell County, you are clearly in the minority. She is destroying a library system that was working just fine for staff and patrons and she needs to be held accountable, as do the commissioners who voted for this mistake. This is a small town area and we do not care to be dragged into the 21st century, thank you very much. We were all happy just the way we were.

Concerned Citizens for Newport Library

Bookworm

Does moving forward in the 21st century mean:

1. Utilizing only one platform for disseminating information when it is known a significant percentage of the population in Carteret County does not want to use it for justifiable security concerns.

2. Not communicating in a timely fashion. For example, the Carteret County Board of Commissioner’s excellent video announcing the opening of the library to the public directs people to the Library website, which still states “All locations are closed to the public.” Sent in at 11am September 6.

3. Throwing out local history resources and books without checking for groups that would welcome them. While this was done in one location, it was not done evenly at all branches.

4. Taking credit for the hard work of many volunteers in garnering her credentials for the ALA award and denigrating the participants before it became evident it would succeed.

5. Creating a hostile work environment

6. Recognizing that not all brand new technologies are cost effective.

Welcome to the discussion.

As a privately owned web site, we reserve the right to edit or remove comments that contain spam, advertising, vulgarity, threats of violence, racism, anti-Semitism, or personal/abusive/condescending attacks on other users or goading them. The same applies to trolling, the use of multiple aliases, or just generally being a jerk. Enforcement of this policy is at the sole discretion of the site administrators and repeat offenders may be blocked or permanently banned without warning.