Friends of the Jones Library Wield Power Without Public Accountability



Fundraisers Shape Library Programming and Town Spending
The Friends of the Jones Library System, Inc. (the Friends) is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization that serves as the sole fundraising arm of Amherst’s main and two branch public libraries.  In 2018 the Friends and the Jones Library Trustees signed an agreement that allows the fundraisers to retain 20% of the money they raise while handing over the remaining 80% to the library. During recent debate among the trustees over how much to budget for programming in FY25, it has become clear that the ability and willingness of the Friends to fulfill funding requests play a large role in determining Jones Library program offerings.

See related Library Leaders Clash over Fundraising and Programs

Citing uncertainty should the library renovation-expansion proceed to the construction phase, Director Sharon Sharry proposed a major reduction in programming in the FY25 budget and expressed a reluctance to ask the Friends to fund more programs.  At the same time, she explained that the Friends carry an accumulation of funds that they can dole out upon request.  She attempted to clarify the workings of the Friends at the March 14 Library Budget Committee meeting.

“A fiscal year is an imaginary number, right? It’s an imaginary date and what the Friends take in in any given year doesn’t go away if we don’t spend it,” she said.

Sharry continued, “So regarding FY24, the $210,000 that we were budgeting [for programming], that’s based on what they had earned during FY24 as well as all the other money that they’ve got in their reserves. Fast forward and we probably won’t spend that full [amount] because we have not done as many asks of the Friends this year.”

Indicating that money not spent would continue to be added to the Friends’ reserves, she said, “Right now we’re being conservative with all our programming dollars.”

The conservative approach did not sit well with Trustee Treasurer Bob Pam who pointed out that Sharry was only budgeting $8500 for combined children’s, youth and adult programming for the entire year.  He asked for a more “outward looking” budget that would benefit the public and stimulate additional donations to enable reimbursing the Town of Amherst for the library share of the $46.1 million appropriation for the building project.

Sharry’s explanation highlights how decisions by the Friends impact not only the extent of library services, but also how much funding the Town may need to commit to initiatives such as the renovation-expansion.  Since the Friends are a private non-profit corporation, they are exempt from the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law, and the public has no window into how the group manages its money and no input into how its decisions are made.

The current roster of the Friends of the Jones Library and its Capital Campaign.  Source:

The influence of the Friends of the Jones Library, however, is small compared with the that of the politically active and powerful Jones Library Capital Campaign (JLCC) which operates under the Friends’ non-profit designation.

The JLCC, with members who have strong ties to Amherst College and the Business Improvement District, has leveraged its access to wealth to convince town leaders to commit an unprecedented amount of taxpayer funds – $25 million when interest is included – to demolish and rebuild a 30-year-old addition and add another 15,000 square feet to the historic 1928 library building to satisfy a claimed need for more programming space. For historical comparison, leaders carefully limited the Town’s contribution to the construction of the 15,000-square-foot 1993 addition to $1 million.

Particularly troubling is a complete lack of public information about how the Capital Campaign may be compensating its staff or members for their fundraising work.  What we do know is that the JLCC has paid out $327,412 in personnel expenses through March 1, 2024. During that time it has remitted $1.6 million to the Town out of a total promised commitment of $13,822,512 as projected in a cash-flow model prepared with input from JLCC leaders at a closed-door meeting with town officials.  The cash-flow schedule led town councilors to believe that the Capital Campaign would remit $2.5 million by January 31, 2024.

See related Town Leaders Silent as Library Misses First Payment of $2M

The Jones Library Capital Campaign has succeeded in stretching Amherst’s finances to a breaking point, squeezing other budget priorities, and postponing important capital projects like a new DPW and fire station for who-knows-how-long.

And when the day of reckoning comes and it is time for the Capital Campaign to pay the town its due, what will happen if fundraising has fallen short?  Whether it is the library endowment or the taxpayers that must make up the shortfall, the result will not be pretty.

Trustees Compromise on Budget and Bob Pam Announces His Departure Date
At the March 25 Board of Library Trustees meeting, something of a compromise was reached.  Treasurer Bob Pam had asked that $25,000 be added to the FY25 programming line item with the increase to be balanced by an increase in gifts and pledges.  Director Sharon Sharry had stated that she could not recommend this increase.  President Austin Sarat pointed out that the trustees could increase the programming budget, but it was still up to the Director how much of it to spend.  The increase of the programming budget from $23,714 to $48,714 passed unanimously.

At the end of the meeting Bob Pam delivered the sobering news that he and his wife Dorothy expect to sell their house on June 14 and would be moving.  He advised the board to begin the process of finding a successor to assume his duties as treasurer and chair of the Budget and Investment Committees.  Pam’s skills, independence and big-picture view will be difficult to replace.

A promotional message attached to the 3/25 trustee meeting agenda. The cost for teens to be able to lounge at the library every day may be the loss of 10% of Regional Middle and High School teachers.  Source:
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1 thought on “Friends of the Jones Library Wield Power Without Public Accountability

  1. Excellent exposé, Jeff!

    It wouldn’t be the first time that crusading ideologues demolished the intellectual infrastructure of their communities.

    Perhaps The Indy could start a new feature:

    Amherst Quiz of the Week

    What do the following communities have in common: Afghanistan, Amherst, Cambodia…?

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