Director: Farmington library challenges create opportunities

Editor’s note: Farmington Community Library Director Riti Grover recently spoke with Farmington Voice about FCL’s phased re-opening plan, what patrons can expect in the coming weeks, and her view of the library’s future. This is the first of several articles based on that conversation. 

Riti Grover
Riti Grover (contributed)

Farmington Community Library director Riti Grover had a little over two months on the job when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Michigan.

Grover made the decision to close the Farmington and Farmington Hills buildings on March 14, while working with people she hardly knew. A little over a month later, the library’s Board of Trustees authorized a furlough that ended up affecting about 80 percent of them.

“I barely had a chance to put faces against names of my staff members,” she said. “It has been a challenge, but I think at this point… I look at the challenges now, and those that pre-date me, as an opportunity for unified, organizational transformation that aims at making and projecting our organization as the best in library service.”

Some library supporters and staff members have criticized the furlough and the amount of time it has taken to return to a full workforce. Acknowledging the difficulties staff members have faced, Grover said that “as a leader, I had to be sure that there is a systematic way of bringing them back. The basis of that was our reopening phases.”

Developed in the early months of the shutdown, the library’s reopening plan began with an assessment of staff and resources and safety training. On June 25, buildings began accepting the return of more than 30,000 items that had been checked out prior to March 14. 

The next phase, curbside pickup of materials, began on July 6. Grover said that has proved so popular, it will continue even in the current phase, with limited access to buildings.

Returning to a ‘new normal’

On Tuesday, more than 230 patrons walked through the doors of the Farmington and Farmington Hills libraries. Both are now open for 30-minute visits, and patrons have access to browse shelves and speak with reference librarians.

As the library continues to restore services and full building access, Grover said, more staff members will be brought back as needed. 

“I really empathize and understand the uncertainties they’ve gone through,” Grover said. “We have had some very heart-to-heart conversations with some of them.”

While the library team is excited about providing services to the community, Grover also sees a need to better evaluate those services. She believes that when staff members see what they’re achieving every day, it adds to their confidence and morale.

Both have been battered in recent months not only by the furlough, but also controversy stemming from a leaked email in which library board vice president Bill Largent made statements highly critical of staff. He subsequently released a statement standing by his comments.

Grover believes the controversy and hard feelings over the furlough will one day be seen in a more positive light, as a time of opportunity to better know the organization and the community. For now, staff members are returning to the “new normal” so many organizations face as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on.

“Even though their confidence and morale had been tampered with, they are all coming back and looking at things with a new perspective,” Grover said. “They are becoming part of the transformation, and I am very proud of everything they do.”

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