Jones Library Highlights: Expanded Hours, Ballot Question Committee, Director’s Evaluation Concerns, North Amherst Library Construction Update


Photo: Creative Commons

The Jones Library System Board of Trustees held its regular monthly meeting on  August 26. 

The full meeting packet is here

In attendance were five of the six Trustees (Bob Pam was absent), Director Sharon Sharry, Head of Special Collections Cindy Harbeson and liaison to the Friends of the Jones Library System Louis Mainzer. 

Expanded Hours To Begin September 7 On A Trial Basis
After a lengthy discussion, the Jones Library System will open to full hours on a trial basis on September 7 with several important changes to the schedule. The new hours will be reviewed at the October board meeting (date TBD) to see how the plan is working. The vote was 4 to 1. President Austin Sarat voted no.

Although the Munson Library hours will stay the same, the North Amherst Library will see some changes so that they are easier for patrons to remember. See the table below.

Photo: Jones Library

New hours at the Jones will end at either 5:15 or 8:15 p.m. Closing an hour earlier on Tuesday and Thursday nights will mean that funding can be shifted to open the library on Monday mornings, which has been requested by patrons for years.

Changing the closing hours to 15 minutes after the hour will allow hourly staff, which includes everyone except the salaried library director, to be paid for the time needed to close the building. Evidently, some staff members have been working past their paid hours for years. Sarat wondered if this practice has been in line with Massachusetts labor laws.

Ballot Question Committee Formed
Mainzer announced that the Friends of the Jones Library System (FJLS) will establish a ballot question committee to “persuade” the public to vote YES in the November 2 referendum about whether the Town should support the town appropriation of $35,279,700 for the Jones Library renovation/expansion project. 

He noted that “there are people out there [not supporting the project] who deserve our understanding.” He said that there are “delicate legal issues” about what “you can and can’t do” regarding advocacy. 

Director’s Goals May Pose A Legal Concern
The board voted to approve the forms and procedures of the yearly evaluation of the library director. 

Two of the director’s FY 2021 goals were: 

(a) Continue to support the work of the Friends Development Committee including meeting with and informing donors about the Library and reaching their goal of raising $150,000. 

(b) Continue to support the work of the Friends Capital Campaign Committee including meeting with and informing donors about the project and to begin to reach their goal of raising $5 million. 

Although there was no discussion of the following issue at the meeting, information from the Massachusetts’ Office of Campaign and Political Finance indicates that a town-paid employee is not allowed to work on a ballot question. A voter veto campaign was initiated in April 2021, and since then, the library director, whose salary is paid by the Amherst taxpayers, might not have been legally allowed to use work time and library resources to advocate for passage of a ballot question.  Hence, her performance commitments, which require her to support the Friends of the Jones Library System, a private organization with no public oversight or Open Meeting Law mandates, as well as  web pages that are part of the Jones’ website, are possibly illegal.

North Amherst Library Construction Project
Trustee Alex Lefebvre, a member of the North Amherst Library (NAL) Building Committee, announced that the North Amherst project could begin as early as December 2021 or  spring 2022.  Since this is a town-owned building and not a library-owned building, no “building program” was developed by the library director indicating specific needs such as new furniture, shelving, and computers. 

The town has not yet addressed how these items might be funded, and they are not included in the donation  offered several years ago from an anonymous donor. Lefebvre said that once the needs are established by the architect, the library could  approach the Joint Capital Planning Committee for funding. 

Sarat asked how the NAL library staff will be utilized when it closes for construction. Sharry replied that Munson hours may be extended, and they may work there and/or they will be used to add Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) track tabs to every material in the Jones collection in anticipation of buying a $400,000 automatic book sorting machine, which is part of the demolition/expansion plan. 

Other News

The Board voted to deaccess 25% of the library’s Fine Arts Collection. See Indy article here.

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8 thoughts on “Jones Library Highlights: Expanded Hours, Ballot Question Committee, Director’s Evaluation Concerns, North Amherst Library Construction Update

  1. Thanks, Terry, for spotting this issue! The word from the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance:

    “Public resources (… office equipment, and the paid time of public employees) may not be used for political campaign purposes, such as … the passage or defeat of a ballot question…. a public employee may not, during his or her work day, render campaign service to a … ballot question committee …. ”

    Whether the Town’s proposed $35,000,000+ Jones Library demolition/construction project goes forward will now be a ballot question at the November election. For the Library Director and other Library staff, consequently, as well as for Town staff from the Town Manager on down, this provision applies.

  2. A $400,000.00 book-sorting machine. Does that also include installation and maintenance and repair costs, as well as the electricity costs needed to make it work? And what are the material and staff time costs associated with placing the RFID tabs in books? Will this system perform miracles that make it pay for itself in the end? On the other hand, if you divide that same amount by 10, as in 10 years, that would be $40,000.00 per year that could go to paying an actual staff member to do the same task — as well as other tasks. And I suspect that at the end of those same 10 years, this machine will likely be obsolete, or broken down, or both, and we will need to spend more money to get a new and improved version.

  3. Wow, nearly half a million dollars for an automated book sorting machine in a town the size of Amherst? In 2017, the town of Waukesha, Wisconsin (a city of 70,000) spent $200,000 on an automated book sorting machine that did not worked properly and saddled taxpayers with more than $80,000 to tag materials with RFID, $30, 000 for additional roller bins, PLUS maintenance contracts that started at $14,000 a year and escalated to $21,000 in 2021. After two years of adjustments, their automated sorting machine still wasn’t able to sort books. Let’s hope the proposed twice-as-expensive Jones Library automated book sorting machine will actually work! Here’s the Wisconsin story link:

  4. At 10 years, machines will have vested retirement benefits, so let’s guess 9 years at most?

  5. re; the $400,000 automatic book sorting machine . Given that estimated construction costs continue to rise, one wonders if almost half a million dollars plus a yearly maintenance contract is worth the small savings in labor costs that the book sorting machine is promised to deliver? A resident might also wonder why do this BEFORE a more realistic estimate of the demolition/expansion is ascertained during the design and development stage.?

  6. Actually, that $400,000 initial tab for this wish-list automatic book-sorting machine is from 2016. Not clear whether this includes the cost of buying and installing conveyor belts to whisk sorted books to their destinations. Wonder what the initial tab is now – including conveyor belts? And Library personnel have never provided a cost estimate for the annual servicing contract that such a machine undoubtedly requires.

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