Your Voice: Staff member concerned about library’s future

TO THE EDITOR:

I am writing to you because of my concerns about the dysfunction of the Farmington Library Board of Trustees and its director, Riti Grover, and how they interact with the present staff and furloughed staff.

As a retired Farmington teacher of 30 years and current furloughed library staff member of 12 years, I have never witnessed so much confusion, mismanagement, disorganization, and lack of understanding of the workings of a library on the part of the library board and its director.

A brief history would show that over the previous three years, the past mayor of Farmington Hills, Ken Massey, unethically appointed an individual to the board who was openly critical of the library board. His approach to the job was intimidating, demeaning and disrespectful to all the board members. One by one, all but one of the library board resigned, citing that the board had become “toxic”, and there was a “significant impact” on staff morale. During this time, Ken Massey was hand selecting new board members, and the mayor of Farmington, along with the Farmington City Council, were interviewing and voting on new board members.

The director, Elyse Streit, was working extremely hard to bring in new programs and technology, which were all rejected because of the intimidating tactics of Massey’s choices for the board and their lack of knowledge about the library. I must say that some board members were good people, but could not stand up to the pressure.

Unfortunately, after a very frustrating year, Elyse Streit resigned due to the fact that the board had eroded her ability to do her job. During the past year, four of the “new” board members have also resigned. Two have been replaced, and two are in the process of being chosen.

A company was called in to help with the hiring of a new director. Riti Grover was chosen by the board but did not seem to be the first choice of the library staff. Ms. Grover began her position in January of this year. Many staff members are questioning whether the Farmington/Farmington Hills community is being well served under Ms Grover and the Board to whom she reports.

When COVID-19 hit, the library was shut down on March 14, 2020. The decision was made to have very few staff members in the library to carry out online services and to have the rest of the staff work from home and be paid. This was a good move and reflected Governor Whitmer’s guidelines. Then on Thursday, April 23 at 9 p.m., in an email, all staff members except for about 17 “necessary” staff were told that they would be furloughed with no guarantee of rehire or reinstatement. This was effective the next day, Friday, April 24 at 6 p.m. The Board said it was due to concerns about how Covid-19 may affect library finances. But this is not a valid point, since the library’s budget comes from a millage which is set for the fiscal year.

Only a small handful of libraries in Oakland County furloughed their staffs. Farmington Community Library is one of the last libraries in the metro-Detroit area to begin curbside service, and we will be open fewer hours than almost any other library. Many members of the community have expressed their unhappiness with the lack of library services.

The library has called back a small number of staff to begin some of these programs. Many librarians, while working at home, went through the process of researching and choosing the best books for our next ordering period, but so far, no new books have been ordered, and our fiscal year has ended. New books will be ordered, but the books that did not get ordered in May and June will never be ordered or will have to come out of this year’s new budget. It will take time to order, receive and process new books, delaying the time that they will be ready for the public. This is so disappointing for our community considering, at the present time, there are no new books for the summer reading program.

On June 16, 2020, we received a letter from Library Board President Jim White, saying he appreciated our patience and included a six- part phased reopening plan. In his letter, Mr. White said we are initiating a comprehensive service module assessment. He gave a very brief explanation, which was vague and confusing.

At the June 25, 2020 virtual Board Meeting, many people were asking for more information to help us understand what this assessment is and why we need it. There was also concern about the price of hiring a consulting firm at this time. Ms Grover started to look for the cost of this when she was interrupted by the intimidating board member, who yelled, “No, this is not the time to answer these questions! It is not on our agenda! We need to talk about this first and address it at another time.” I am paraphrasing, but he was quite angry and obviously did not want to be transparent with staff members or the public. I am concerned about all the money they have saved from furloughing so many staff members and what it will be used for.

At the present time, our library is in a state of chaos, because the board and Ms. Grover have chosen to call back only 40 out of 133 employees. The following is just a small amount of tasks which must be accomplished: approximately 30,000 materials need to be quarantined, processed and shelved; all virtual programming has to be planned or maintained; librarians are necessary to run the Summer Reading Programs; providing curbside book pick-up; and so much more is needed to service the community.

A library cannot be run by one-third of its staff who are currently overworked and scrambling to meet the demands of their jobs. In a recent letter sent by Mr.White, he stated that no more staff members will be called back until the completion of the comprehensive service module assessment, which is set for August 24, 2020. So many furloughed staff members want to work to meet the needs of our community, but this board is in no hurry to reach this goal.

I am very concerned about the future of the Farmington Community Library and whether it will be able to get up and running again with such contention between the board, the director and the staff. We need the community to come together and make its voice heard!

Suzanne Dengiz
Farmington Hills

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