The Jones Library Board of Trustees held its first virtual meeting on March 27, 2020, at 3:00 PM after a slight confusion concerning the streaming platform. The meeting was initially posted with Microsoft Teams and was changed to the more user-friendly Zoom about three hours before the meeting.
Not only was this the first virtual experience for the Trustees, it was the first time that residents have been able to view a library board meeting remotely in any circumstance since the library is not included in the Town’s recording contract with Amherst Media.
There was some question as to whether this meeting was recorded for the public to view later or not. The screen flashed that it was being recorded through Workplace on Facebook but one needs a password for access.
The meeting dealt with four main topics:
1) Current services to patrons
2) Current state of the Jones physical plant
3) Administrative issues including the budget
4) Proposed Building Project
Director Sharon Sharry announced that patrons must NOT return library materials at this time and that there will be no fines. She also stated that staff is being paid through this crisis.
Sharry then gave a comprehensive summary of what each branch and department head is doing to maintain some library services personally through phone and email as well as virtually. For example, the ESL program is continuing its conversation circles through Zoom.
The library’s website (joneslibrary.org) provides many links. The page entitled “Coronavirus Resources” has updated health information as well as a summary of library online services such as Naxos, Kanopy and others.
The library also maintains several Facebook pages (e.g. Jones Library, Jones Library Kids Room, Jones Library Teen Space, Jones Library Special Collections and Friends of the Jones Library).
Sharry stated that some staff do not have internet and/or devices at home so the library’s IT department is working on helping staff with this.
Sharry noted that Maggie Spiegel, Branch Librarian of the North Amherst Library, is retiring as of March 31, 2020, after 25 years of service to the library. She sadly could not say goodbye to all of her patrons. Those wanting to send good wishes to Maggie can send a snail mail note to the Jones at 43 Amity Street, and the library will get them to her.
Current State of the Jones Physical Plant
Sharry confirmed that the Jones is “locked up and locked down.” Maintenance Supervisor, George Hicks, can monitor video cameras from home. The heating system is on “night mode” 24 hours a day and will revert to air conditioning on May 15th.
The library has been cleaned once before closing, and Trustee Bob Pam was assured that it will be cleaned and sanitized appropriately upon re-opening. Sharry indicated that materials returned in the future will also be cleaned, perhaps in a different location.
Trustee President Austin Sarat was concerned about continuity plans and asked the Director who would take over if she became ill. Sharry started to explain who would do what and was interrupted by Sarat who advised that it is necessary to designate one person to be in charge even if various staff would take on different duties. Sharry is to get back to the Trustees on this matter as soon as possible
Sarat also wanted to know when the Town’s budget planning would occur, noting that the Library budget is now due on April 1st. Sharry answered that her budget is completed but that she cannot speculate if the Town’s appropriation (which pays for all staff salaries) will stay the same. Sarat said that the Trustees need to know the effect of the Town’s budget on the library.
There was then a discussion about the impact of the stock market on the Jones’s endowment which funds a significant part of the Jones’ budget.
Treasurer Bob Pam reported that as of 3/24/20 the Endowment was around $7.2 million down from about $8.2 million before the virus, a 12% decline. He then explained that the endowment is on an automatic asset allocation schedule through the Vanguard Group, and the endowment is re-balanced at the end of each quarter to maintain a 60% stock to 40% bond ratio. He felt comfortable with the situation at this point.
Trustee Alex Lefebvre wondered if this long-term policy was appropriate in this uncertain time and reflected on her past experience in risk management. After some discussion, it was agreed that a virtual meeting of the Trustees’ Investment Committee would be set up with Vanguard as soon as possible.
It was curious that a possible budget shortfall for this fiscal year was not discussed at all. At the January 9, 2020 monthly Trustees’ meeting, Bob Pam stated that the yearly endowment withdrawal had already been taken in full and that spring fundraising money was needed through the Friends of the Jones Library in order to balance the budget before June 30th.
Proposed Building Project
President Sarat asked the Director about the status of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, building project grant. Sharry has not as yet inquired. However, she said that Feingold Alexander Architects was still working on the contract for the Sustainability Committee about the costs of possible energy mitigation in the demolition/expansion project, and that Kuhn-Riddle was on track for completion in mid-April of their contract to provide an updated estimate for refurbishment only. Capital campaign materials are being developed by the Financial Development Agency under the umbrella of the Friends of the Jones Library.