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Rural Librarians Unite in Solidarity With the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum

State of the Arts


Published January 9, 2013 at 11:18 a.m.

St. Johnsbury Athenaeum
  • St. Johnsbury Athenaeum

Think librarians are mousy types? Think again. This Saturday, a group of mad-as-hell members of Rural Librarians Unite (RuLU) will convene to demonstrate in support of the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, whose trustees laid off its entire library staff last month to cut costs. According to a recent vitriolic release from RuLU, the move would save only 8 percent of the budget.

The largest library in the Northeast Kingdom is also a state treasure. In its elegant Second Empire building, it provides visitors from across the region with not just books, educational programming and internet access but also a world-class collection of paintings — including a jaw-dropping 10-by-15-foot canvas titled “Domes of the Yosemite,” by Alfred Bierstadt — and sculptures (thank you, Horace Fairbanks). Unfortunately, the Athenaeum is suffering a financial crisis, like many libraries in this age of advanced information technology and diminishing resources of that low-tech kind: money. As board chair Bill Marshall wrote in a recent letter justifying radical changes, “What we cherish and appreciate is in jeopardy.”

Still, the members of RuLU are outraged that the library staff was sacked (though are free to apply for new positions). Writes Penny Pillsbury, director of the Brownell Library in Essex Junction: “Having worked with Lisa von Kann, the director of the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, for over 20 years, I’m horrified that a consummate professional of her caliber would be treated with such brutal lack of respect … In my 48 years of library work, I can’t think of a worse time to ‘fire the librarians.’”

To be sure, the board of the Athenaeum — which has vowed to balance the facility’s budget by 2015 — has a difficult road ahead, and the firing of its staff cannot have been an easy decision. But on Saturday, RuLU — a volunteer group formed “to promote and support libraries, library staff and librarianship in rural settings” — will underscore its ire at the “heavy-handed approach” by gathering to “hug” the Athenaeum. “We will be holding hands around the library in solidarity with Athenaeum library staff,” promises the RuLU. Stay tuned for updates on this page-turning story.

Rural Librarians United will lead a demonstration in solidarity with library staff this Saturday, January 12, at noon at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, 1171 Main Street.,

The print version of the article was headlined "Book 'Em".