By Talia Heisey
SUDBURY – For more than 30 years, The Friends of Goodnow Library have supported Goodnow Library by providing free passes to museums for library patrons, supporting library programing and hosting the annual book sale.
But the two organizations are spliting their partnership.
Although the relationship appeared to be ideal in the eyes of patrons it was in reality unraveling over the course of several years, eventually resulting in a unanimous vote by the Board of Trustees on January 19, 2021 for Goodnow to end its relationship with the Friends of Goodnow.
“There were…some tensions between the library and some of the board of the Friends that just continued to get worse and worse particularly over the last two years … I think that the Friends, leadership has been rather resistant to making an effort to to repair the relationship,” Ingrid Mayyasi, President of the Trustees Board.
“I think the Friends have always because they view themselves as an independent organization from the library. So, you know, I think that there were just some tensions between the library and some of the board of the Friends that just continued to get worse and worse,” said Mayyasi.
The Goodnow Library, while previously supported by the Friends of the Goodnow Library still has the support of the Goodnow Library Foundation.
On the Friends of Goodnow Library’s website, Claudia Brandon wrote “it all comes down to control over money.”
Mayyasi said there was a swift transition to other funding sources for programming, “in the short term … the things that the Friends brought to the library will continue, you know, the children’s and adult programming will be paid for with state aid, and museum passes will be paid
for the time, the library has some trust funds, and money from that will be used to, to pay for the museum passes..in the short term … patrons shouldn’t notice a change.”
Goodnow Library Director Esmé Green offered a different explanation for severing the relationship between the two.
Over these two years, according to Green, “on the staff side, things just got more difficult because there were just increased demands … from them about what the money could be spent on, in what manner, how much credit needed to be given, and it just got more and
more restrictive, and difficult to maintain the asks that they had of us.”
Green gave to the example of Goodnow’s makerspace, the Sara Sherman NOW Lab, which opened in March 2018 where, the Friends of the Goodnow Library refused to fund any events.
“We were stuck, having to worry about exactly what programs happened in there and separate those out from what we were doing and it just wasn’t supportive,” said Green.
The difficulties in the two organization’s relationships were present throughout the Goodnow Board of Trustees meetings, over the past two years, whose minutes are available online.
Alan Gordon and Green went on to attend the Friend’s May 2019 meeting, the Friends of Goodnow refused to be financially transparent and share with Goodnow its financial reports.
This was noted in the June 2019 minutes, along with Green’s response by “stating that other boards she served on freely shared documentation, and that as library director she is entitled to the information of supporting groups.”
This refusal prompted a meeting with the Sudbury Town Manager to discuss the growing conflict between the two.
In a statement released recently, by Mara Huston on the Friend’s website, she defended stating the non profit’s decision not to share records, “the Director/Trustees demand monthly financial statements from the Friends. This is inappropriate also. As grantees, the Director/Trustees can request funds, but the Friends are ultimately responsible for the decision to fund any grant request. The Director/Trustees have no right to know detailed finances other than what’s publicly released. The Friends don’t report to the Director.”
Many non profits which give grants do release financial reports to the public every year.
By the end of the summer and continuing into the fall issues in communications persisted, when reached out to by two different trustee members, Green, and the Town Manager to meet and engage with Goodnow, “the Friends were unable to make time” to meet with Goodnow, according to the September 2019 trustees meeting minutes.
“The Friends would not meet to talk about issues between their board, the library, the library trustees and the Goodnow Library Foundation. The board worked on messaging to the Friends, including a list of agreed behavior, renewed efforts to set up a meeting, and other ways to
address the breakdown in communication. Alan had emailed with the Friends president and had phone calls with her over the summer. The former town manager tried to set up a meeting twice over the summer but was rebuffed” the October 1, 2020 minutes noted.
The October 1, 2019 noted the continued inability to resolve the conflict, “the Board discussed the situation where the Friends would not meet to talk about issues between their board, the library, the library trustees and the Goodnow Library Foundation. The Board worked on messaging to the Friends, including a list of agreed behavior, renewed efforts to set up a meeting, and other ways to address the breakdown in communication.”
“Alan [Gordon] wants to try another time to get the Friends to agree to a meeting between the two boards, including town representation, so he will attend the Friends meeting schedule for Thursday, October 10, to make this request. If that is not effective, then he recommends sending the letter.”
By the November 5 2019 meeting, the Friends continued to “Alan and Marie [Royea] attended the last Friends board meeting with Esmé. Alan tried to convince them to come to a meeting with the trustees and town. They were adamant that they are independent of the Town and “do not meet with the Town.” They were very concerned about the notes Alan had and wanted him to hand them over to them.”
Friends responded by contacting the Town of Sudbury asking for a mediator.
As two town officials looked for an independent mediator, “Ingrid reported that she had a phone call from the Friends president, Alice Levine. Alice asked Ingrid to convey a message to the director, Esmé, and the trustees, that while Esmé was welcome at the Friends meetings, she should notify the Friends in advance if she intended to bring a guest, and that Alan Gordon, library trustee chair was not welcome at their meetings” the December 2019 minutes continue. “The board’s response to the Friends message delivered by Ingrid is that all meetings that take place in the library must be open to the public; that the Friends bylaws state the members of the Friends are welcome at their meetings (which Alan is), according to the December 2019 meeting minute.
By January, the board began drafting a memorandum of understanding, described later by the library’s trustees in their October 15 “it contains basic ground rules and does not stand out as restrictive or punitive in any way.”
Green was recorded during the March 3 2020 minutes stating she “sent the Memorandum of Understanding to the members of the Friends board on Wednesday, February 26 that included a deadline to sign by March 13. As of the time of this meeting, there has been no response, so the board asked Esmé to send a follow up reminder, expressing their concern, and a reminder of changes in the working relationship that will follow if the agreement.”
The deadline was extended several months due to COVID, in the meantime, members of the Trustees Gordon and Barbara Pryor met with Levine and Jo Travers “to begin a conversation about the ongoing issues between the two groups” before the April 7 Trustee meeting.
New tensions in the relationship arose by August when, “Esmé was contacted directly by a donor asking for instructions on how to give to the Library … Esmé recommended she make the donation to the Friends, and set up a time to meet the donor outside the Library to accept the check and documentation.”
“Esmé offered a small ceremony and plaque to the family due to the size of the donation. When Esmé notified the Friends of the donation and her intentions to recognize the family, they became upset that the Library wanted to use the money, accused her of opening their mail and insisted she allow them to make any recognition to the donor<‘ according to the September 2020 meeting minutes.
“Esmé asked the Trustees to support asking the Foundation to set up a dedicated Memorial and Gifts line to accept donations to the Library and to update the website wording accordingly.”
The memorandoum of undertsanding (MOU) remained unsigned.
Alice Levine, Friends president, eventually responded on October 12, “to the Trustees correspondence of September 30, which asked the Friends to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by October 16. It does not contain a signed MOU, but states instead that they want mediated meetings between the Trustees and Friends boards,” according to the October 15 meeting minutes.
Without signing the MOU, to the Board there was “no path forward,” according to the minutes. “Any future meetings should include the full board of the Friends.of we don’t stand by our deadline, we are just kicking the can down the road again. This has gone on too long already.”
The Trustees decide to say they would do mediation once “engage with mediation once MOU is signed, and will extend the deadline to Monday October 19.”
Four days later on October 19, the Friends communicated with the Trustees, “ and stated they would “not be signing the MOU.
“The MOU is a baseline for expected behavior. The Trustees need the Friends to acknowledge the expectations for groups associated with the Trustees and the Library. It’s a minimum requirement for ongoing support. The Library Trustees set Library policy. This board made a decision at the last meeting that the Friends Board needed to sign the MOU if it wanted to continue a relationship with the Library; they declined.”
Levine, Friend’s president spoke at the next meeting in November 2020 on the subject of the gift, and stated “there was a ten-day lapse from the date the envelope was hand delivered (July 30) and the date I received notice (August 11 in an email from Esme Greene, the library director dated August 10). This resulted in great embarrassment to the Friends because it resulted in a significant delay in acknowledging this gift by the Friends. As you can see from the quoted language, the donation was to the Friends for its general purposes.”
“Instead of calling me, the letter addressed to me was opened and scanned at the library and sent to me as an attachment to Esme’s email notice. We were never upset about the fact that the money will ultimately be used to support the library, because that is what we do, but along with the delay we were deprived of the opportunity to accept the donation directly from the donor,” her statement said.
The month before the December 1 meeting of the trustees, Ma and Levine met to discuss the rift.
“Ingrid noted lack of financial transparency and unwillingness of the Friends to sign a memorandum of understanding. She explained that a signed MOU would be the first step in a dialogue between the two groups and that MOUs are recommended by the library profession.”
the minutes said.
“Alice explained that she felt the MOU was one-sided. Ingrid replied that the Friends are not on equal footing with the trustees as they are an elected body. Alice further said that she felt an MOU would cause more problems than it would solve.”
During the meeting, the two also discussed what separation could look like, “at the conclusion of the meeting, Henry (Town Manager) asked if the two groups could work together on the MOU; if that was not possible, and the groups separated, he requested that it be done as painlessly as possible. Discussion followed, including the need if there was a meeting of the two groups, that it be the full boards of both, that we have already gone over this ground multiple times, that next steps should be planned out in detail, etc. One way or another the problem has to be solved.”
The conclusion of this section notes, “it is a shame that both sides feel unheard and no path forward seems possible.”
Mayyasi when asked why the Friends would feel like they weren’t being heard said, “‘I’m surprised to hear that, because if you want to be heard, you have to come to the meeting, or respond. And for the most part, they didn’t do that. They didn’t come to the meetings, or they just didn’t respond when we invited them. So you know, it’s kind of hard when only one party is willing to meet.”
This led to Sunday January 17 two days before the January 19 trustee meeting where the Friends sent the trustees their own MOU, which was described in the January meeting by Barabara Pryor as having ambiguous language and unfair demands.
Trustees also mentioned frustrations at how time consuming the rift has been, and the impact on library staff, the children’s department “staff has felt personally attacked by these instances and also demoralized. We work very hard to serve the children and families of this community and to know that there is a group of people who outwardly support the library but are constantly trying to catch us. When we get a detail like a logo or when a sticker falls off a bag especially during a pandemic. When we are working harder than ever before. It is incredibly demoralizing.”
“I was a strong supporter of the Friends of the Library in the past. It’s really with great regret that I think we need to sever our ties with the friends of the Goodnow library” said Pryor.
Levine, who was in attendance at the meeting spoke, saying ““I can back up everything you say from start to finish with an alternative story.”
Additional Friends supporters and board members spoke including Mara Huston, and Levine once again.
The Board then voted unanimously to severe their relationship with the Friends.
The months since have been a relative return to “the new normal” for the Goodnow Library with the creation of a contactless book drive.
While Friends have continued to fight against the ruling.
The Friends Have yet to turn over donations to the library, which Friends of the Goodnow Library originally agreed could only be used for the library and raised with that promise have not been returned to the library, have not been given to the library.
Green said the only contact she’d had with the Friends since the separation had been to discuss Friends volunteers picking up personal belongings.
“I also would urge them to turn the money over to the library. So it can be used, and to be honest with the donors that that money is not going to come back to the library”‘ Green said.
Green stated her disappointment in the split, “it’s upsetting, no matter how you slice it. But I will say that I am really looking forward to turning my attention to other things like, you know, reopening plans.”
“The library is this great place where there should be no emergencies, we should be loaning out books, and providing material and helping people and offering programming and doing all the great stuff that people love” Green said.
Talia Heisey is a 2021 SOURCE intern who attends UMass Amherst.