Crowd gathers to protest library director’s ouster

About 60 people gathered at the Castleton Public Library Tuesday for a candlelight vigil in support of ousted library Director Darlene Miller. Elvia Garcia (l), 10, says the library has changed. Photo by Catherine Sager.

CASTLETON–At their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, October 20, the Castleton Public Library Board of Trustees were not alone. Outside the library more than 60 people carried signs and chanted calls for the resignation of the entire board.

The demonstration was sparked by the firing of long-time library Director Darlene Miller, and the residents and library users are not finished fighting her abrupt dismissal.

The library is chartered to serve the village and much of the Town of Schodack in southern Rensselaer County.

The seven members of the board voted five-to-two to terminate Mrs. Miller last month while she was on medical leave. Ms. Miller received the termination letter on Castleton Public Library letterhead, which bears the tag line: “First Runner Up for Best Small Library in America.” The letter, dated September 18, was signed by board President Carolyn J. Stetson and was faxed from Goolds Orchard on September 17. Sue Goold Miller is a library trustee.

 

Instructed by their attorney, Andrew Howard of the firm of Freeman and Howard not to comment, board members said only that the decision was a confidential personnel matter. The termination letter Ms. Miller received stated that she had worked diligently on behalf of the library, and that “we appreciate that you have accomplished much in certain areas, especially in initiating, publicizing and conducting programs that attract and serve children. However, it is essential that the Library strive to provide excellent services to all segments of the population the library is charted to serve.”

The letter goes on to say that The Board of Trustees found her performance to be unsatisfactory in the areas of collection building, collection maintenance, premises maintenance and personnel management.

“Moreover, it is the Board of Trustees’ belief that you have failed to maintain a positive working relationship with the board, have failed to supply the board with requested information, and made certain decisions without properly consulting the board and have disregarded certain explicit directions of the board.”

In a phone interview following last month’s meeting, Mr. Howards said, “The Board of Trustees has taken their fiduciary responsibilities very seriously. I believe there is a rational basis for their action.”

Ms. Miller was let go with two weeks’ pay as severance; she was given three days to return her keys and any library property she may have.

Despite the board’s position that Ms. Miller had not adequately developed the collection, the board reported this week that the library has gone over its budget for books on tape for adults. Books on tape are often requested by residents at Castle Hill and Resurrection Nursing Home. The board also said that some children’s programming would need to be cut.

As for the suggestion by the trustees that Ms. Miller only did well with children’s programming, “That’s just not true,” says Nina Martino, president of the Friends of Castleton Library. “All you have to do is look at library’s calendar,”  she said.

Listed on the website’s calendar are numerous ongoing programs with the Castle Hill Senior Apartments, Resurrection Nursing Home, scrap booking, knitting, self defense, bus trips, parenting workshops,  and adult book club were all listed as recurring programs.

The mission statement for the Castleton Public Library is to satisfy our community’s informational, educational, cultural and recreational needs by providing free and open access to a comprehensive range of materials, services, and programs for both adults and children.

“And that is what the library, under the directions of Mrs. Miller, has been doing. I am disappointed by the current members of the Library’s Board of Trustees.  The majority of the members do not seem to listen to the public they serve,” Ms. Martino said.

In addition to the national acclaim the library received for its programming, the library came to the attention of the American Library Association, which picked up the story of the library’s board firing Ms. Miller when it published a piece about the patrons demanding Mrs. Miller’s reinstatement.

The ALA story outlines the various milestones achieved under Mrs. Miller’s direction, including having been singled out at a “star library” in 2009. She was asked to be a presenter at the New York Library Association’s annual meeting. The ALA piece, which was posted on the organization’s website, said one  of Ms. Miller’s most notable attributes is simply taking the time to notice what patrons are reading and initiating conversations about their interests.

Also on hand to show support for Mrs. Miller was Rensselaer County Legislator Alex Shannon.  Mr. Shannon had with him a resolution urging the Castleton Public Library to reinstate Ms. Miller as the library director. 

Elvia Garcia said she notices the difference now that Ms. Miller is no longer at the library. Ten-year-old Elvia lives in the Village of Castleton and still goes to the library, but she says, “It’s just not the same. No one knows me, and nobody even says hello.”

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