Library board mistreats community speakers

My name is Fern Haught, and I write as a member of the Cleveland Heights art community and a resident artist at ARTFUL.

On Monday May 20, the Heights Library Board of Trustees met and voted to decline the 18 month lease extensions for the current nonprofit tenants in the Coventry PEACE campus. They instead voted to offer a six month short-term lease. Their reasoning stated is mainly financial, speaking about the burden of the building. They have offered 18 month leases beginning June 1 to new tenants like Dance Cleveland. It is unclear how removing all of the existing nonprofits and losing the consistency of their rent payments in six months lessens the financial burden on the library and the taxpayers. 

I attended this Board of Trustees meeting to make my public comments on the future of the nonprofits, specifically ARTFUL, which provides my accessible art studio space. This lease renewal issue also includes other groups in the building such as Lake Erie Ink, FutureHeights, Reaching Heights, Grace Communion Church, and the Cleveland Heights teachers union. There were speakers there from several of these organizations. 

During the public comment time a member of the board, the library director Nancy Levin, could be observed laughing at speakers who were sharing how much these organizations have impacted their lives.  She on several occasions would be rolling her eyes, whispering, or making rude expressions at the speakers and her fellow board members. This was quite frankly shocking to see. 

As I asked at the meeting, I wanted to know if this kind of treatment of the public is permitted from a member of the board. I was told they were not taking questions. Heights Libraries’ own posted Service and Administration Policies state on page 17: "The library staff is committed to providing excellent customer service, following the library’s customer service standards, and creating good rapport with the community." Her behavior escalated the interactions with the public commenters very unnecessarily and did the opposite of creating good rapport with her community. 

As a published author who does events with Heights Library, this behavior is very disappointing to see. I have a disabled accessible studio space in ARTFUL, and need it to function and work. I use mobility aids due to my genetic disorder and autoimmune disease. So few spaces are accommodating to disabled individuals and it’s very necessary that this space remains. As someone beginning a Master of Library and Information Science degree I would hope and expect to see more community-oriented behavior from my local library system.

Fern Haught

Fern Haught (they/he) is an illustrator and author whose debut graphic novel, The Baker and the Bard, was released in March 2024. Haught is a resident artist at ARTFUL.

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Volume 17, Issue 7, Posted 8:18 AM, 06.26.2024