The Llano County Library. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey
Llano County librarians presented a formal grievance letter to library system Director Amber Milum during a quarterly staff meeting Monday, Sept. 12. The letter presented four points of grievance, mostly directed at Milum, including a charge that she is operating outside of the guidelines of the current approved policies and procedures, does not inform employees of pertinent information in a timely manner, and is ignoring employee safety concerns.
Signing the letter were Llano Head Librarian Martina Castelan, Library Tech Richard Lelle, Kingsland Children’s Librarian April Puryear, Kingsland Library Tech Jennifer Kormish, and Lakeshore Head Librarian Melissa Macdougall.
Castelan, who is acting as spokesperson for the group, attempted to read the letter out loud during the meeting. She said that about two-thirds of the way through, Milum abruptly closed the meeting.
“She stood up, said, ‘Meeting is dismissed. Go home,’ and left,” Castelan said.
When contacted by this reporter for a comment on the presentation of the letter, Milum said, “I’m sorry. No comment. Thank you,” and hung up the phone.
“We decided to write this letter to get it off our chests, to get it out there,” Castelan told DailyTrib.com. “We really feel we are not being listened to. Nobody really cares what happens.”
“I’m outraged,” Castelan said when asked about thoughts on the trade. “No one has said a word to us about that. We found out that discussions have been going on for six to eight weeks now, and no one felt the need to give us a heads-up.”
Lack of communication in general is another grievance. The letter states that emails are ignored and often altered. Phone calls are not returned.
Librarians were also not told that the county had decided to close the Kingsland and Llano libraries on Saturdays.
“This information was learned from a patron who read about this change in a local newspaper, despite the fact that the Director attended Kingsland’s monthly staff meeting the day prior and never mentioned this decision,” the grievance letter reads.
The grievances are laid out in bullet points and then explained in detail. Topping the list was staffing.
“Prior to 2021, the Llano County Library System employed 11-12 librarians,” the letter reads. “The LCLS currently operates with six librarians. The current level of staffing doesn’t allow for proper breaks or lunch hours to be taken and often leads to librarians working independently for a majority of a work week.”
Because of the lack of staffing, the letter explains that a majority of library programs have been discontinued at all three of the county’s libraries: the Llano County Library in Llano, Kingsland Branch Library in Kingsland, and Lakeshore Branch Library in Buchanan Dam.
“The Director of the LCLS (Milum) has disregarded the librarians’ requests for more staffing and expressed the ability to hire but is choosing not to, purportedly based on current usage and a desire to not involve more individuals in the situation.”
According to the grievance letter, the library system has been operating outside of the guidelines of approved policies and procedures since 2021, causing the collection to become outdated.
“We haven’t bought any books in almost a year,” Castelan said. “That’s an indefinite pause because of the way things got all convoluted (with the lawsuit). We can’t buy until the advisory board has reviewed and suggested changes to procedures and policy.”
The letter concludes with an excerpt from the Federal Employment and Labor Laws Handbook that states it is “unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of that employee’s union activities or affiliation. The National Labor Relations Act’s employee protections also extend to employees who, although not affiliated with a union, engage in concerted, protected activity.”
The exceptions also include parts of the Whistleblower Act, which protects employees who speak out about workplace issues.
“We are a little afraid we will be fired,” Castelan said. “Because we put in the labor laws handbook and the policy on grievances, and how together as a group we are a de facto union, it is our understanding they won’t be able to fire us for this issue. But we completely believe they will find a reason to fire us.”
The librarians decided to take that risk, however, because they do not want to see any more damage done to the Llano County Library System.
“We are lost, in limbo, with no direction,” Castelan said. “All we want is more transparency with the public, telling the public what is going on. We want the community to understand that we are trying and doing everything in our power to get us back on track, get our programs going again. We want to get the library back to the amazing place it used to be.”