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Athens library director resigns following internal pushback over book display

The D.R. Evarts Library in Athens, New York
WAMC
The D.R. Evarts Library in Athens, New York

The director of a small-town library in Greene County has resigned following a dispute over a book display.

Athens’ D.R. Evarts library is located on a shady street on the west side of the Hudson River. The stately stone building also recently lost its full-time director, who says the library board president’s resistance to a Pride Month book display led to his resignation.

“They've been consistently resistant to my input. None of them use the library. They don't interact with the community the way that I do, and for them to make a blanket judgment call like this for the book on behalf of the community, was…that was it for me.”

Hired in October, Julian Giarraputo, whose official title was Library Business Manager, served for eight months. His resignation was accepted by the library Board of Trustees on June 11th.

Giarraputo believes he was acting appropriately and in line with New York state Diversity Equity Inclusion guidance when he selected two books on non-traditional parenting to be displayed at two story walks in Athens – one, at the Athens Riverfront Park, the other at the local elementary school.

Giarraputo says the president of the Evarts board, Kathy Jackson, objected to his selection of “And Tango Makes Three” to be displayed at the school. The 2005 picture book by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson tells the story of two male penguins who hatch and raise an orphan chick.

Giarraputo said he hung up “Tango” at the river over Jackson’s concerns of posting it at the school. The book that was originally selected for the Riverwalk, “My Maddy,” about a child and a gender-nonconforming parent, was never hung up, and is now on display outside the Kinderhook Memorial Library. He stands by his book selections as a timely recognition of the LGBTQ+ community.

“I'm a minority in a predominantly white county, and I felt like this was a necessary move, especially considering that we're governed by the Board of Regents and the Board of Education, which has a DEI requirement. So, this kind of just dovetails altogether. These are award-winning, popular books, not doing anything, not going out on a limb, really. These books are fun to read and also have a larger message,” said Giarraputo.

Library Board President Jackson says she does did not see the conflict over the book display as a disagreement. She said she pushed Giarraputo to instead create a display to draw students to the library’s summer reading program.

“I saw it as more, we know what the important things have to do with the library are a little better than he does, only because he hadn't been here for a summer. And so, the summer reading program, the urgency of it, the urgency of getting the message out, of making sure that as many children knew about it, knew about the benefits that we were going to offer for it…”

In an email exchange between the two, Jackson characterizes Giarraputo’s selections as biased. She writes:

“Whether the board and you and your staff are totally on board with LGBTQ+ initiatives is a personal statement and represents bias. At the library, we need to appear unbiased. All viewpoints are welcome at the library. We can't show favoritism which is why we may create and display rainbows, but we don't antagonize those with opposing views by posting a book at the school that we know will be unwelcome by some members of our community,” wrote Jackson.

Jackson declined to comment on internal employee communications, but reiterated her position about the importance of promoting the summer reading program for a library that has only an annual tax levy amount of $160,000.

“If it was another time of year, would it have been, OK? That it wasn't summer reading time that we were trying to promote? I would have said, ‘Go to the school's principal and make sure that he's on board so that he's not blindsided,’” said Jackson.

The library has since hired an interim director. Meantime, Giarraputo is seeking employment elsewhere.

Greene County legislator Ed Bloomer, who attended the June 11th library board meeting, said the loss of a key staff member is nothing new for the library.

“There seems to be a rapid turnover, not just of directors, but I understand as board members as well,” said Bloomer.

Jackson helped create the Library Business Manager position. She acknowledged, with an annual salary that was raised to $55,000 a year but lacks health benefits, the job has been difficult to keep filled in the long-term.

Bloomer recognized Giarraputo’s hands-on involvement in library programming and community volunteer work at the Athens Community Food Pantry.

“He's a wonderful asset that I personally am very sorry to see the library lose,” said Bloomer.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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