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Concern for the future of the Como library

Dear Oxford Eagle editor and all residents of north Mississippi:

I am writing in response to a May 29 letter from First Regional Library (FRL) Board members that got some press in the area of our state served by the First Regional Library system, a five-county area that includes Lafayette and Panola Counties.

A disturbing sentence in that letter stated that a branch manager would soon be hired for Como’s library, and, sure enough, later on I saw a job search posted to that effect on the FRL website.

The Board members’ letter claims that they take their responsibility for terminations “very seriously,” yet they don’t seem to think it odd when a new Director summarily fires an award-winning librarian who has served admirably for nine years.

Plus, they are actually rushing to hire a replacement for Alice Pierotti before they have heard anything from her.

If this mismanagement can happen to Como’s library, it very well may also happen to libraries in Oxford, Southaven and other cities in First Regional’s part of our state.

First Regional’s appeals process gives Alice the right to come before the FRL Board to speak directly to them, and she notified them that she would exercise that right.

FRL’s response was that she could speak, but not until their next regularly-scheduled meeting. Therefore, her life is on hold until July 19. She is reluctant to start a job search until she has at least had the chance to tell the Board why her termination from this job was not warranted.

The Board knows about Alice’s termination only what the Director has chosen to tell them, along with any evidence she may have presented to them.

These Board members will be derelict in their duties to the people they represent if they blindly condone all actions the new Director chooses to take. They need to look into ALL terminations, especially those ordered by a Director who is on probation. By the way, I hear that the best library assistant in Crenshaw has just been ousted too.

In their letter, the FRL Board members promise exciting programs for the Como library this summer, and it’s true that some good events Alice had scheduled are still on the agenda. However, FRL, for some unfathomable reason, canceled the Fife and Drum Parade, led by musician Sharde Thomas, granddaughter of the famed late musician Otha Turner. The Parade has kicked off the Summer Reading Program for several years, and it’s a joyful Como tradition.

I also notice on the schedule that too much of the kids’ library time this summer will be taken up by passive programming, such as watching movies, and FRL has eliminated three of the Read Aloud programs Alice had scheduled. Reading aloud keeps kids’ reading skills sharp through the summer and is cost-effective programming with low staff impact.

FRL confiscated from Alice’s office her personal possessions as well as possessions lent to her by other people. We were first informed that the Board would decide which items to keep in Hernando and which ones to return.  After we complained to the Mississippi Library Commission, and they, in turn, spoke to the Director, she finally did return some people’s possessions, but only a fraction of Alice’s things. FRL still has well over $100 worth of Alice’s belongings.

We understand privacy concerns and don’t expect to be told why the Director fired Alice, though that secrecy makes it more difficult to fight effectively for her.

Contrary to Mississippi Library Commission procedures, Alice received no written reasons for being terminated, but the Director did verbally state two reasons. Alice freely shares those reasons with any of her friends who ask. One of the reasons is totally bogus; the other one falls far short of a firing offense.

Upwards of 20 local residents attended a recent Hernando FRL Board meeting to plead for Alice’s reinstatement. Only five were allowed to briefly speak, and most of our folks were banished to a part of the building where they couldn’t hear what went on in the meeting. Those who spoke on Alice’s behalf included Como Mayor Everette Hill, and State Representative for Panola and part of Tate County, Lataisha Jackson.

The FRL Board received over 220 signatures on petitions to reinstate Alice, and dozens of letters passionately supporting her. In spite of this unprecedented outpouring, so far Board members have seemed to care not a fig what their constituents think. I guess they fear that questioning the actions of the Director will anger her.

Despite the fine words in their letter, First Regional Board members’ passive stance has allowed actions to proceed that are extremely hurtful to their own reputations, as well as to a fine librarian, the Como Library, the town of Como and the citizens of this region.

We the people now send the following message to each First Regional Library Board member:  Wake up and take some responsibility! From now on we will be paying close attention to your actions (and/or inaction) as opposed to your words.

Sincerely,

Martha Frances Taylor Garrison

Como, Mississippi