Meetings of the Board of Trustees at Forbes Library are held in the newly renovated Coolidge Room. Large portraits of Calvin Coolidge and his wife gaze down from the wall. Grace looks serene and beautiful and uninvolved in her silvery silk dress. Coolidge frowns ominously, as if he didnt like what he was hearing.
At this meeting, the only candidate for the directorship of the library had the nerve to say that with all the assets that the Coolidge Room and its archives brought to her work and the library, the program had its liabilities; it took up precious space and needed to be self-supporting, and perhaps have a home of its own. I dont think Cal liked hearing that.
Sessions of the Library trustees seldom draw much public attention or many spectators, but weeks of shadowy behind the scenes maneuvering climaxed with a standing room only meeting on April 2 when the Trustees of Forbes Library voted unanimously to name Janet Moulding, Forbes current acting director, as the ninth director, and first woman to head the 110-year-old library. She succeeds Blaise Bisaillon who recently took early retirement after a 25-year career at the library.
Members of the community and employees jammed the Coolidge Room to hear Moulding answer questions from the board, and applauded lustily when the three members of the five member board that were present voted her in. She was highly praised by almost every one. Strangely, two members of the board were absent, the husband-wife team of Allison Lockwood and Richard Garvey. Were they sick, indisposed, angry?
Their absence may tell a tale, but empty seats is all we have. This reporter made a determined effort to get principals in this matter to comment but they let their phones and doorbells ring on. So here is what we do know, and what we might guess. There was a six person search committee composed of staff, a representative from the Friends of Forbes Library, and trustees. They looked at three finalists and narrowed the list to two, Janet Moulding and H. Mark Titus, librarian at the main branch of the Ocean Branch library at Toms River, N.J. The committee first eliminated a candidate from Easthampton and then deadlocked three-three, and voted to pass both names to the full Board of Trustees.
Titus, from all accounts was highly qualified for the position. Toms River is in a fast-growing section of coastal New Jersey; the library he directs has 97 employees and a $5 million budget, and many innovational programs. Coming to Forbes, a much smaller library with a budget of $900,000, does not, at first, look like a promotion, but Titus loves Northampton, and maybe the cachet of being a library director here in this college town gives you career points.
In any case, at some point, Titus withdrew his name from consideration. In the March 30 Daily Hampshire Gazette, reporter Ryan Davis quoted the chairman of the trustees, Russell Carrier, as saying that Trustee Richard Garvey, who headed the search committee, told him: Titus got the sense the staff had a lot of anger. Janet Moulding said when she heard this she was flabbergasted.
I talked by telephone with Titus at the library in Toms River. He was guarded in his comments, but did not deny Garveys assessment. People were angry and they were angry at him. He voiced his regret that he could have not taken the position.
On his visit to the library, Titus was escorted around the library by Linda Knaack, reference librarian and member of the search committee. He met and talked with many staff people on his visit, some of whom were fairly vocal in their criticisms of the city and its neglect of the library. I talked with Moulding, and both she and Linda Knaack expressed puzzlement that Titus would want this position, since he was taking a substantial pay cut and would have to work with a much smaller budget.
Moulding also expressed puzzlement that anything the staff might have said would have deterred someone like Titus from taking the position. When I pressed Ms. Knaack on her impressions of Titus she said that she just couldnt picture him in the position. He wasnt a Northampton person, he was so urban.
It bothers me that no inquiries have been launched within the library to determine what was said and how it was said. Did Forbes staff, accustomed to someone they liked and could get along with, work actively to oppose someone from the outside who might crack the whip and upset some applecarts? Did staff, for whatever reason, beat up on Titus to force him out and make it a one horse race? Maybe if he was going to take a pay cut and a cut in budget anyway, arriving to find an angry staff which didnt want an outsider involved might have been enough for him to say to himself, hey I dont need this.
One person who attended the meeting of the trustees meeting termed it a coronation. The meeting bothered me because it reminded me of too many City Council meetings I have sat through where everything is orchestrated, and the people who might have offered a different point of view stayed home.
Here in Northampton when city-related programs launch nation-wide searches for administrative personnel, most of the time these searches dont work out. Highly qualified people are dragged up here and interviewed, but then it is found that gee, the people right here are the most qualified.
The outpouring of support from community people at the meeting for Janet Moulding was genuine, yet the fact that the head of the search committee did not participate in the final decision to hire a new director troubled me. The role of staff in turning out people for the meeting troubled me.
It is clear that the board of trustees lost control of the process, and dropped the ball on this by not taking responsibility for squiring Titus around on his visit to Forbes Library and making sure that he was treated with respect and amiability.