TO THE EDITOR:
Library board vice president Bill Largent recently published an attempt to defend his abusive behavior towards Farmington Community Library (FCL) staff, captured in a leaked email. I am unimpressed with his response.
First, it’s obvious that Largent has no remorse for what he said in that spiteful email. “I stand by the message,” he said, adding only that his language “might have been more delicate.” That lack of apology shows that he really does not care about staff concerns, their needs, or issues with service interruptions. After all, library staff members are, in his own words, “self-centered, self-absorbed, ignorant and offensive workers,” and the library is just a “jobs program.”
He doesn’t care about the demands of the public, either. To him, concerned Farmington and Farmington Hills residents are a “vile mob.” He’s fine with asking a sitting council member to act in his support, and he has no trouble willfully subverting the library board president and “blocking multiple fronts” — and then he turns around and says library employees are the insubordinate ones. His own bad behavior, he would argue, isn’t an issue because he claims he is “improving” the library.
Secondly, while Largent likes to portray himself as a great modernizer and paint library staff as relics of a bygone era, this simply isn’t the case. “I … pointed out, when I joined the board, that digital technology had and continued to change all aspects of business and that the library too needed to adapt,” he proclaimed. The reality, however, is that FCL staff has been improving and expanding digital access for years.
Before Largent was appointed in 2018, the library had already invested in numerous databases for adults and children — and had them long enough to identify which databases got the most use. Ebook services were already available, and funds were being regularly invested in purchasing more of them. Librarians were already getting grants to expand collections beyond books, making iPads, Wi-Fi hotspots, and even telescopes available for check-out. Mr. Largent did not bring technology to the library — staff had already been working, routinely, to expand digital services and new collections.
Thirdly, Mr. Largent claims that the library has been going downhill because fewer physical items have been leaving the library since 2018. However, it’s peculiar to cite circulation data exclusively as a measure of use — and it’s a bizarre argument for someone who thinks digital use is what the library should be focusing on. The library actually tracks the number of people who enter the building, attend each program, ask for assistance, and use the databases. And as library users know, the library is not just a repository of books. It is a service and a space that is open to the community, regardless of whether they leave with physical materials in their hands.
It’s clear that Largent has always wanted to cut the staff budget — the pandemic was merely an excuse. At the beginning of his letter, Largent expresses his disbelief that 64 percent of the library budget goes toward paying library staff. In reality, that’s not unusual for a library. According to data provided by 2019-2020 Michigan Public Library Statistics, FCL’s 2019-2020 expenditure on staff (62.5 percent) was only slightly above the average (61percent) among libraries serving similarly-sized communities. Largent is fond of highlighting how various administrative changes will allow the administration to target staffing levels. Not surprisingly, he himself voted against restoring benefits for furloughed staff.
What is this “library of the future” Largent envisions? A library without very many librarians, as he apparently wants, translates to a library with fewer services — and poorer quality, as the remaining staff is stretched thin. For example, the 2020 children’s Summer Reading Program was truncated, and it offered fewer programs than originally scheduled. The annual Star Wars Reads Day, one of the most popular annual library programs ever, had to be canceled because there are not enough staff to support or even to plan it. When Largent says he should be praised because he’s saving taxpayer money, this is what it translates to in real life: a library of less.
Would you trust Bill Largent to support the community’s interests? Would you want to serve under a man who thinks so poorly of the staff who’ve devoted years to serving the community?
Would you want to give power to a person who is quick to disparage the public he’s appointed to represent? — who bullies his colleagues and subordinates alike? Even if Largent were a brilliant steward with an innovative vision for the future, it would still not make his behavior any more excusable. He should listen to the 1,200 signatories of the “Restore The Farmington Community Library” petition, the requests of previous library board members and current city council members, and resign.
Former Farmington Community Library Children’s Librarian