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 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.