Save Woburn Public Library and stop abusive leadership

Save Woburn Public Library and stop abusive leadership

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Eric Blanchet
Eric Blanchet signed this petition

tl;dr: Woburn Public Library is intending to lay off all of its staff in July, despite their salaries being approved in the FY21 budget. The director has also made decisions that led to the dissolution of the Friends of the Library volunteer group. This abuse of power must be stopped and the jobs of these library workers must be saved. Sign this petition to Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin and the Board of Library Trustees and show your support.

Director Bonnie Roalsen has a developed a reputation for making decisions that have harmed her staff, including the alleged unexpected removal or alteration of the circulation (front) desks at both Dedham and Woburn Public Library. There are reports of public inquiries into her ability to spend municipal funds and questions of relying on favoritism for her hiring. Given her former staff members say this anti-staff behavior was well underway before she came to Woburn, it is unfortunate that she is now in a position to engage in what looks like transparent union-busting. The library has been staffed by volunteers since its closure, which is deeply problematic, legally questionable, and indicates a shocking level of disrespect for city employees, some of whom are no doubt Woburn residents themselves. 

While Ms. Roalsen's technology-focused approach to library management has a glossy appeal, her apparent desire to automate library functions and seek funding from corporate sponsorships comes off as an unabashed attempt to eliminate municipal jobs, decouple the library from its community, and defy the ethics of librarianship. The prevalence of volunteer work in United Kingdom libraries has led to devastating job loss throughout that country, and we should resist this happening wherever else we see it. There is no community benefit from these decisions; in fact, they are actively harmful to the city.

According to people close to the situation, Social Capital Inc., a well-regarded organization in Woburn that previously had a long-standing positive relationship with the library, retracted the volunteers they had sent to the library when they found out they were working in lieu of staff instead of in support of them. The ongoing dissolution of the Friends of the Woburn Public Library is a cruel attack on the city's residents, particularly its children. The loss of support for museum passes, the Teddy Bear Picnic, Woburn Reads, and other Friends-sponsored events will leave a hole in the community at a time when we need to come together.

The library's staff can offer services and programming from home, as scores of libraries throughout the state have been doing for months; however, it looks like the scant programming offerings for the next month will be provided by private performers and not qualified library staff. Per Governor Baker, so long as they follow the state's guidelines for safe reopening, library workers can also engage in curbside pickup of items, as many fellow Minuteman libraries are already doing--and it is an incredibly popular service. It will not be difficult for library workers to continue working and contributing to the community if they are given the opportunity to do so, but their jobs must stop being outsourced to volunteers and outside performers.

Ms. Roalsen's leadership choices reflect poorly on the city's administration, the board of trustees, and the legacy of the library as a whole. We need transparency from Mayor Galvin and the Board of Library Trustees regarding these numerous issues, but much more urgently, the city of Woburn should not allow this massive layoff and union-bust of its library workers. It is clear that residents are paying close attention to what is happening and are organizing against it as best they can. We urge you to listen to your constituents and put a stop to this plan to lay off the library's staff.

The #ProtectLibraryWorkers campaign has been co-organizing efforts to recognize the importance of protecting library workers and defending their jobs during the pandemic; this work has been covered in the New York TimesNBC NewsBoston HeraldBloomberg City LabPBS News Hour, and many other news outlets. We also have amassed nearly 8,000 signatures on a petition advocating for library workers' safety and continued employment.