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Nine library employees remain, Clean Up Alabama volunteers at Autauga-Prattville

That’s down from 17 employees just 10 days ago.

Lettering on the outside of the Prattville Public Library against a brick wall.
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Section 23 of the Autauga-Prattville Public Library policy clarifies that volunteers may assist staff, but are not considered a replacement for staff.

Apparently, desperate times call for desperate measures. 

APR reported 10 days ago that APPL Board Chair Ray Boles fired four staff members who refused to open the library in protest of the termination of Director Andrew Foster. 

But that has not been the end of the library’s staffing woes. Sources now indicate that the library currently has only nine actively working employees—including one, Christelle Meyer, who is halfway through a two-week notice. That’s down from 17 employees just 10 days ago. Assistant Director Kaitlin Wilson is also halfway through a two-week notice, but is taking accrued paid time off through the end of her employment.

Three of those nine employees must spend many of their hours at branches in Autaugaville, Marbury and Billingsley. Two of the remaining nine employees, bookkeeper Rebekah Ismail and storyteller and outreach assistant Lisa Streipe, do not run the desk and are rarely in the main branch based on their roles.

This has resulted in the library operating with just one to two staff members for much of the 45 hours a week the library remains open. The library briefly announced last Monday that it would drop to 42 hours a week due to short staffing, only for leaders to realize that doing so would jeopardize state funding from the Alabama Public Library Service.

The library also initially announced that all planned events were canceled, quickly drawing immense backlash on social media and leading the library to backtrack.

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In addition to the 45 hours the library is open to the public, at least one employee must be at the library about an hour before opening and about an hour after closing. 

This means there are nearly 57 hours in a work week at the library. But only two employees currently work 40 hours at the main branch—interim director Tammy Bear and circulation administrator Tatyana Nelsen. Library specialist Emma Tyus works 40 hours, but runs the Marbury branch and spends 23 hours each week there. That leaves 17 hours Tyus can work at the main branch.

Cliff Harker works 26 hours, but spends 10 hours at Autaugaville each week. Holly Gunter works 16 hours at the Billingsley branch, leaving just 10 hours a week at the main branch.

This means there will typically be no more than three employees available at the library at any given time—sometimes less depending on schedules.

The termination of Adrienne Barringer, programming assistant, and the resignation of Baylee Smith, youth services librarian, leave the library without any staff to run programs.

So the library has instead called on volunteers to lead the programs, despite the volunteer application process requiring no background checks or vetting outside of listing three references.

Many of the observed volunteers have connections to Clean Up Alabama including Hannah Rees (CUA executive director), Chuk Shirley (board member), Lori Herring (Eagle Forum representative) and even board attorney Laura Clark, who initially spoke out alongside Clean Up leaders against the library last year.

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These volunteers aren’t just taking on the typical volunteering roles, they have been leading story time and other programs for kids, duties that had belonged to Smith and Barringer. 

“My main priority was doing programs for kids ages 0-18,” Smith said. “I would do 8 to 10 programs a week. I loved what I did, it meant a lot to me.”

Smith has a masters in library science, and along with Barringer planned, prepped and ran the programs.

Sources say the absence of Smith and Barringer jeopardizes the summer reading program, one of the library’s most popular programs.

Most of the remaining staff, including the interim director Bear, had been part-time associates before Foster’s termination. Nelsen is the only administrator left.

That means some of the library’s other programs are on pause or inaccessible. 

For example, interlibrary loans are currently not available due to the termination of Lacie Sutherland, the former cataloging and acquisitions manager. The “library of things” is also on pause as far as new items are concerned.

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APR recently overheard two children in the library expressing their excitement about the ability to check out a microscope, an addition to the library’s catalog of things that made it just in time before Sutherland’s termination.

Foster and Smith were the only two staff members with degrees in library science, and with Wilson also gone, there is nobody remaining with the knowledge or experience to run a successful library.

Correction: This article has been updated as of 4:44 p.m. on March 26, 2024 after Clean Up Alabama leader Chuk Shirley disputed a statement that his wife had volunteered at the Autauga-Prattville Public Library. The prior statement was based on information received by APR, but APR apologies if the inclusion was made in error. The statement has been removed, and replaced with a statement that Chuk Shirley himself has volunteered, as observed directly by APR.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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