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Llano head librarian resigns due to ‘lack of response’ over grievances

Llano County Library

The Llano County Library, 102 E. Haynie St. in Llano. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Llano Head Librarian Martina Castelan resigned her position as of Sept. 27 but was asked to pack up her personal belongings and leave at 1:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19. Her resignation leaves only a part-time, 28-hour-a week person to run the facility. 

The Llano County Library System, which had 12 employees in 2021, is now down to five for its three libraries: Llano County Library in Llano, Lakeshore Branch Library in Buchanan Dam, and Kingsland Branch Library in Kingsland.

Castelan resigned one day after presenting a letter of grievance signed by the remaining six librarians to system Director Amber Milum during a quarterly staff meeting Sept. 12. 

“I resigned because of the lack of response,” Castelan told DailyTrib.com. “(Milum) is acting as if nothing is happening.”  

The grievance letter was signed by Castelan, Library Tech Richard Lelle, Kingsland Children’s Librarian April Puryear, Kingsland Library Tech Jennifer Kormish, and Lakeshore Head Librarian Melissa Macdougall.

As Castelan was reading the letter aloud, Milum abruptly closed the meeting and left. The library director refused to comment to DailyTrib.com when reached by phone. 

The grievance letter was the culmination of weeks of frustration by the librarians over being left out of the loop when the county decided to close the libraries on Saturdays and the Llano Library building was included in a possible trade of property between the city and county. (The building is no longer part of trade negotiations between the two government entities.) 

Other grievances were listed, including lack of staff, broken equipment, and the director’s refusal to answer emails or address librarians’ concerns. 

The library system has not purchased any new books in 11 months and has not hired additional staff despite having lost six — now seven — employees over the past year. The library system is also at the center of a federal civil lawsuit over censorship. A hearing on a preliminary injunction to reinstate the system’s e-book service and return banned books to library shelves is Oct. 28 and Oct. 31 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, with Judge Robert Pitman presiding. 

“It’s with a heavy heart that I make this decision, but I don’t see my passion for Librarianship as something that will be nurtured in this community,” Castelan said in her resignation letter. “I’ve seen my character tarnished, my professionalism questioned, and felt unsupported by my county.”

She has received an outpouring of support from library patrons and certainly from the Llano County Library Foundation. 

“The foundation has enjoyed watching her take the summer reading program for kids and make it into something wonderful for all ages,” said foundation President Leila Green Little. “She has been a wonderful asset for the library system, and we are sad to see her go.”

Little is part of the group that filed the lawsuit against several Llano County commissioners, Milum, and certain members of the Llano County Library Advisory Board.

Former school librarian and Llano Library patron Lenore Weihs posted on Facebook how sorry she was to see Castelan go. She spoke with DailyTrib.com.

“I know my grandchildren are going to greatly miss her,” she said. “They think very highly of her. She’s their favorite librarian of all time.”

Weihs praised Castelan for the lessons and programs she put together, especially the summer reading and science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) programs. 

“I call what she does STREAM, because she adds the ‘reading’ aspect to what’s she providing,” Weihs said. “I am going to miss what she brings to the library.” 

Castelan said she is overwhelmed by the support of patrons and children who have emailed, texted, called, and stopped by the library. In her resignation letter to Milum, she expressed some of the emotion she felt about her job and having to leave it.

“This job was so much more than just a place to punch a time card,” she wrote. “It was an extension of the safety I always felt as a kid when I visited. Sadly, I can no longer say that I still feel that safety. It’s been mentioned a time or two that I care too much about the library, and that’s true, because I know the profound effect the library, librarians, and other patrons can have on someone’s life. It’s my hope that the library will once again become a haven for those who need it. I wish the best of luck to my last remaining coworkers, and I apologize for being unable to see this through to the end.”

In a recent Facebook post several days after Castelan announced her resignation, Weihs encouraged “concerned citizens of Llano County” to attend the next meeting of the Llano County Commissioners Court, which is at 9 a.m. Monday, Sept. 26, to speak on behalf of the library. 

She also posted a link to instructions on the protocol for speaking before the court during the public comment section of the agenda. 

Castelan said she was saddened but not surprised when asked to leave her job early. She was called in to speak to Human Resources Director Lisa Otto and First Assistant Llano County Attorney Matthew Rienstra, who spent the first part of the meeting asking her questions about the grievance letter. 

She was then informed that her resignation letter had been accepted and that she would be paid through Sept. 27 but was no longer employed. 

“I’m sad,” she said when asked about leaving. “I loved my job. I’m going to miss everyone, but it’s for the best, I guess.”

suzanne@thepicayune.com 

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