Letter: Failure To Protect Historic Documents Underscores Failings of Jones Library Leadership

Directions to the Woodbury Room, Jones Library. Photo: Art Keene

In her letter about the Jones Library in the Amherst Bulletin, my friend Susan Tracy, Hampshire’s distinguished history professor, rightly points out the tragedy in the library’s loss of hundreds of valuable historic documents in 2020 due to a systems failure. She notes that this was the fourth failure affecting the archives since 2015.

This string of failures highlights the underlying cause of the problem: management. The repeated return of those documents to an unsafe environment while awaiting a rebuilt library is so sad. Once, or even twice, might be excused, but the failure to remove those valuable archival materials to a safer place was a fundamental mistake.  Dr. Tracy mentions the CPAC grant of $1 million from Amherst taxpayers; if that was available, there was no reason to wait to make permanent repairs.

But even without those funds, a solution to the threat to the archives should not have been delayed.  The repeated exposure to danger to the archives, by the leadership of the Jones, should not be displayed as a reason to vote “Yes.”  Rather, it raises anew the question of decision-making there, and is another reason to vote “No” and start again to design the post-pandemic library the town can afford.


Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal is one of the founders of Hampshire College and served as its interim President in 2019. He was recently named Historian of Hampshire College and has a deep and long-standing appreciation of historic documents.

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1 thought on “Letter: Failure To Protect Historic Documents Underscores Failings of Jones Library Leadership

  1. This letter does raise important questions about the management of the Jones Library. What was the systems failure that led to the damage of valuable special collection documents four times in six years? Do we know if this damage might have been avoided with proper maintenance? Deferring maintenance at the Jones has been an ongoing issue. For example, several years ago it was discovered that the flaking paint around the front door of the library was lead-based, which could pose a risk of contaminated dust for patrons (particularly children) entering the library. Yet it took more than a year before the flaking lead-based paint was remediated. Five years ago when the Jones Library building project was first proposed, photos of the library interior were used to illustrate problems to bolster the argument for the need to tear down 40% of the building. Some of the problems cited actually had simple fixes, like installing additional outlets to avoid overloading a single outlet. Other photos of several small reading rooms on the upper floor showed them being used to store file boxes that instead, if stored elsewhere, could have been available for use by patrons. The Jones currently operates at a $100,000 a year deficit, which raises a reasonable concern about managing a larger building. It would be prudent to vote No and start over with a sustainable renovation.

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