Vermont News Briefs

St. Johnsbury Athenaeum lays off entire library-based staff; will hire to fill five full-time positions

This story is by Taylor Reed, a staff writer at The Caledonian-Record, where it was first published Dec. 7.

St. Johnsbury Athenaeum is cutting its workforce.

The St. Johnsbury Athenaeum Board of Trustees as of Feb. 1 will lay off all 11 of its library-based employees, but will retain all four of its non-library employees. One of those people cut will be veteran staff member Lisa von Kann.

The Athenaeum will maintain just five full-time or near-full-time library-based positions going forward. Laid-off employees may apply for those positions, along with other interested applicants, according to trustees this week.

"We're not laying off anybody because of cause," said Gilbert Steil, vice chairman of the Athenaeum trustees Thursday evening. "Nobody has done anything bad. It's not their fault the Internet was invented."

Gilbert Steil of Ryegate is vice chairman of the Athenaeum trustees.

"We're not laying off anybody because of cause," he said Thursday evening. "Nobody has done anything bad. It's not their fault the Internet was invented. We're very thankful that we've had the employees and are very grateful for their service."

Layoffs are the product of money woes, changing demand, and a desire to shift from part-time to full-time employees, he said Thursday evening.

The Athenaeum has been posting annual deficits, Steil said. He did not have past figures Thursday, but said the institution predicts a $67,000 shortfall next year.

"We've been running up deficits for the past four or five years," Steil said.

Layoffs are expected to save about $30,000, he said. Total employee hours will experience little change though, he said.

"We're still investing a lot in personnel," Steil said. "We just feel a structure that involves a lot of part-time people is intrinsically inefficient."

Some part-time workers clock as little as four hours weekly, he said.

Changing demand for libraries is another issue.

"The needs of our patrons are changing," Steil said. "There is a technological revolution going on in the way people access information and literature. ... We want to rethink what the library is about."

Trustees believe five full-time employees are better suited for the task than 11 part-time and full-time employees, Steil said.

Despite plans to hire five library employees following layoffs, trustees in the interest of fairness opted to layoff all existing library employees, Steil said.

"We decided to treat everybody the same," he said. "It is everybody related to the library."

Employees who are not being laid off include executive director Matthew Powers and development and outreach coordinator Mary Ellen Reis. Reis will go from part-time to full-time status under the pending changes, Steil said.

The Athenaeum's custodian and bookkeeper will retain employment as well. Steil did not have their names Thursday.

Trustees plan to add an additional non-library position too. It is called curator of collections, and its holder will develop plans to profit on the institution's fine-art and rare-books collections in a push to further cut the deficit, Steil said.

"For the last 100 years we haven't done anything with these collections to raise revenue," he said.

Trustees last year established a goal to balance the Athenaeum budget by 2015, Steil said.

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