Letter: Jones Library Has Thousands Fewer Books Than Ten Years Ago

Entrance of children's collections at the Jones Library. Photo: Art Keene

Does the Jones Library really need an extra 10,300 or so square feet? It has thousands fewer books, etc., now than it had more than 10 years ago.  

In March 2009, I became a Jones Library Trustee. The Trustees had customarily spent 150% of the minimum annual amount for books and materials that the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners required for certification. 

In a stunningly short span of time, however, the Library’s Endowment had just plunged from about $9.2 million to about $5.7 million. The inescapable cuts for FY2010 included 1/3 less for books, subscriptions to magazines and journals, and online resources, e.g., a medical research service costing $600. per year. This troubled an Amherst toxicologist whom I know and doubtless others. 

In 2011, a Jones librarian told me that the cuts had already compromised the collections. 

Nonetheless, the Trustees have continued each year to budget just enough for books, videos, etc. to maintain certification and, with it, Amherst’s access to interlibrary loans. 

In addition, or rather, subtraction, since 2011 the Library has aggressively deaccessioned thousands of perfectly good books for children and adults, for $1 each or less. Friends who acquired them for their personal libraries have done very well. But we, the Amherst public, are the poorer for it. 

The Library Director admits that a larger Library building would not mean a greater number of books. 

Town Council should decline the state grant for demolition/expansion, and require the Trustees to make better use of the 51,000 square feet that, per their architects, they already have.

Sarah McKee

Sarah McKee is former President of the Jones Library Trustees.

Spread the love

6 thoughts on “Letter: Jones Library Has Thousands Fewer Books Than Ten Years Ago

  1. I find it egregious that Ms. McKee doesn’t take responsibility for the plunge in the endowment that occured under her watch as a Jones Trustee. That plunge, and the aggressive endowment spending policy of that time, also her responsibility, resulted in significantly less funding availability from endowment sources from then on. Why wasn’t the endowment invested more prudently then? Isn’t it one of the Trustees’ primary responsibilities to be the fiduciary of the Library endowment?

  2. Timing, Mr. Blumenfeld, timing. That plunge in the Endowment occurred BEFORE I became a Trustee. It did not happen on my watch. In fact, I found it horrifying. Nonetheless, I could not yet do anything about it.

    Once on the Library Board, I spearheaded a switch of the Endowment to a financial management firm in the Valley whose client fund had lost less than 9% — SEC audited figures, mind you — during that same devastating period.

    A loss that was relatively so small, when the markets had crashed so badly, was no accident. It resulted from the firm’s highly disciplined investment approach. This was specifically designed to minimize losses, and to take advantage of gains. As you well know, if principal loses 50%, it takes a 100% gain to break even. A nationally respected investment professional who was then on the Finance Committee even complimented the Trustees publicly, before Town Meeting, on our choice of a new investment manager.

    Had the Endowment been invested with that Valley firm during the crash, it would have been well positioned to take advantage of the gains that followed. As it was, we Trustees were able to take about $400,000 out of the Endowment in about 2011, in a choppy market year that ended about where it had begun, while preserving the principal. That performance looked pretty darned good to me.

    I understand that the Endowment is now about where it was when the markets crashed. In recent years, the Trustees have returned the Endowment to the national management firm under which it had lost so much then.

  3. So, who, specifically was responsible for this financial disaster and endowment mismanagement?

  4. Mr. Blumenfeld, how many public — repeat, public — libraries, in towns as small as Amherst, have professional PR firms such as yours to run PR interference for them?

    As to who was responsible for the “financial disaster” of 2007-9, try the huge Wall Street financial firms that engaged in predatory mortgage lending on an epic scale. Their express intent was to foreclose on illegally overpriced mortgage loans, on homes with artificially inflated appraisals, which they knew their targeted borrowers could never repay. At the same time, they were getting pension and other large funds to invest in the related, mortgage-backed securities. I’ve prosecuted federal bank and tax fraud. What went on was actually a little more complicated than that. But this is off track here, don’t you think?

    As to your charge of “endowment mismanagement,” I don’t think it fair. In about 2005, the then-Trustees made what I thought was a responsible decision to cease their decades-old practice of investing the Endowment in individual stocks and bonds. They switched to a portfolio of mutual stock and bond funds with a national mutual fund management firm. I am unaware of who chose the specific funds, the Trustees or the management firm, or some combination. This reportedly decreased the costs of administering the Endowment.

    What the crash made clear, however, was that various of the mutual stock funds chosen were nonetheless invested in many of the same stocks. In addition, the Endowment was fully invested at all times. It kept no reserves in cash. To make budget as the markets fell, therefore, the Trustees had no choice but to sell from the Endowment each month, at ever-increasing losses.

    The investment firm’s advice was to “stay the course,” i.e., to do nothing, and wait for the markets to recover. Markets do go up and down, and up. And down. “Buy and hold,” AKA “stay the course,” is one accepted approach to investing. My predecessor Trustees, in 2008, took advice that many would think sound. I think that they just did not know of any responsible alternative.

    The present Trustees are now using this same investment firm again. You might ask them what their plan is to preserve the Endowment, if the markets again go south.

  5. Ms. McKee,
    Thank you for your thorough review of the Jones’s financial ups and downs and reasons for your opposition to the current plans to demo and expand the library. One thing that fascinates me about our attitude to public structures is the inclination to build but not maintain. We wait until the roof is falling in and then say, “May as we’ll tear it down and start over.”

  6. Thank you for your comment, Ms. Williams. You are welcome. What you note is particularly regrettable when what’s slated for demolition is really special. The design of the Library’s 1990s addition is so sensitive, both as to the 1928 Library itself and the historic Strong House next door, that many assume it to be part of the original.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.