Library director resigns amid questions of board censorship

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The director of Chester’s Whiting Library tendered her resignation on Thursday, May 12, on the eve of  the Whiting’s board of trustees second executive session to discuss a scheduled library event that at least one member found “too controversial” and wanted cancelled. But board chair Robert Nied says the situation is being misunderstood.

On Tuesday, May 10, the trustees held their first executive session, which ran more than three hours. Vermont’s Open Meeting Law allows public bodies (the trustees are elected officials of the town) to meet behind closed doors for specific reasons. In this case the board cited three exemptions, “contracts,” “labor relations agreements with employees” and “a disciplinary or dismissal action against a public officer or employee.”

Robert Nied chairing the board’s Friday May 13 meeting

In Thursday, May 5 email to Library Director Deirdre Doran, Nied said the board “may” want her present for a portion of  the upcoming May 10 meeting. But not knowing whether she would be able to speak to the board, on May 7, Doran submitted a statement in which she said that she received “instantaneous feedback” from Nied to censor the program “minutes after it was announced” on the library’s Facebook page.  That Facebook post was made on Tuesday, May 3 and was taken down on the same day.

The event in question, which had been planned for June 4, is Drag Queen Story Hour, a national program begun in 2015 in which drag queens read stories to children and their families in libraries, schools and bookstores. The Pride Month presentation, Doran wrote in her statement to the board, is “a culturally inclusive, accessible, diversity-celebrating program for families that aligns with our mission as a library to serve the (diversity, equity and inclusion) and literacy needs of our community.”

Doran also wrote that there “is no precedent for library employees to seek prior approval for programs at the library. The trustees hire the library director and charge the library staff with putting on programs.” She also noted that the program fits within the mission and strategic goals of of the library that were discussed by the public at two visioning workshops last fall.

Drag Queen Story Hour shared event announcement space with Green Up Day, backyard bubble science and a tie dye party before promotion was halted

Both the American Library Association and the Vermont Department of Libraries provide a menu of resources for using Drag Queen Story Hour to “provide a welcoming, safe, respectful space for diverse voices and perspectives.”

In Vermont, Drag Queen Story Hour has been performed at the Flynn Center – FlynnZone Kids Hour, Northern Vermont University, the Kellogg Hubbard Library in Montpelier, the Milton Public Library, the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, the Warren Public Library, the Lanpher Library in Hyde Park, the Jericho Town Library, the Waterbury Public Library, Noyes House Museum, Epsilon Spires in Brattleboro, the Varnum Memorial Library in Winooski and the 2022 Annual Meeting of the Vermont Department of the United Church of Christ.

And while the board scheduled a special meeting for Friday May 13, on Thursday morning Doran submitted her resignation effective no later than June 30.

On Friday morning, the board went into another executive session with Nied saying it would likely be lengthy and personnel discussions would center around employee evaluation, employee status, employee agreements and employee compensation. After a brief discussion, the board came out of executive session with Nied saying that the board wanted to speak with the Doran and Carrie King, the youth services librarian.

Asked about Doran’s resignation, Nied said that the board could not comment since they had not yet discussed that. Nied was informed that The Telegraph would be publishing a story on the resignation nevertheless. Nied said that in that case, the board’s comment was that they “are really looking forward to having that discussion with the director.”

Library director Deirdre Doran speaks to the board before it went into executive session to discuss the Drag Queen Story Hour with her

Once the meeting got through the rest of the agenda, Doran entered the Zoom call and the second executive session began. After about an hour, Nied confirmed that the board had spoken with the Doran but that they had lost their quorum at the end of the executive session. He noted that no decisions had been made and wondered how to end the executive session without a quorum.

Asked whether Doran’s resignation was still in force,  Nied said that he could not comment.

“The board is still interacting with the director. The director is still the director as of now,” said Nied. “That’s all I can say … there has been no resolution.”

Later on Friday, Nied spoke with The Telegraph.

“We believe there is some misunderstanding in the community about a program that was paused at the request of the Board of Trustees to discuss further with staff for understanding the program,” said Nied. “It was not cancelled or censored and it’s off base to say we were shutting it down.” Nied also said that the board encourages programming that fosters inclusion and supports the LGBTQ community.”

“My dilemma is that I can’t say definitively anything about this after seven hours of meetings,” said Nied who added that the board was still trying to understand “how it was scheduled, vetted and marketed.”

He also denied that putting the program on hold was due to the annual fundraising effort that will begin in June but rather to resolve the board’s questions.

Calls to Doran were not returned by publication time.

The Chester Telegraph has made a request under Vermont’s Public Records Act for all communications by the board and library staff regarding the program. On Thursday, Nied told The Telegraph that the board was working to comply with the request. As part of Friday’s meeting, Nied asked members to forward any communication referred to in the request to him and he would compile them and send them to the town’s lawyers for review to see if anything in them would be exempt from the Public Records Act.

This is an evolving story and there is likely to be more in the days to come.

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  1. Don Dalton says:

    I agree entirely with those who argue that the library should be a place where ideas can be exchanged freely in a democracy, without hatred or prejudice but only open, rational debate.

    Kinda like what happened when everyone attacked Mr. Nied for expressing his opinion and, perhaps, overstepping his boundaries? Now there’s reasoned and calm debate for you! Does anyone ask why he holds the views and concerns he does? Is anyone treating his views with respect, or is the plan: shoot first, ask questions later?

    I don’t think Mr. Nied is wrong and I don’t think Ms. Doran is wrong. But, as I believe Mr. Nied stated, the people doing the storytelling for DQSH have actual pornography on their (personal?) websites. Is that true, and is everyone OK with that? Seems to me that yes, that just might be a concern, if Mr. Nied is correct. We should perhaps look into this before throwing stones and assuming that Mr. Nied must be one of those folks trying to suppress free expression. Or are we at the point where anything goes … anything, that is, except expressing ideas when they conflict with the group?

    Let’s stop ganging up on someone trying to do the right thing for the community, give him a break, and not rush to judgment. We should be ashamed of ourselves for our behavior toward him every bit as we might be ashamed at prejudice toward drag queens, and not patting ourselves on the back at how open-minded we are, because we aren’t. It seems we only want to hear what we want to hear and for the rest, “hate has no home hear” can go to hell in a handbasket.

  2. Jon Bliss says:

    I support the concept of the library as a cornerstone of democracy. Our public libraries enrich minds, inspire change,
    and bring people together across economic and social
    differences. I can’t support organizations that engage in moralizing, censorship, or marginalization.

    Rev. Jon Bliss, Andover

  3. J, Lloyd says:

    Any negative comment though offered in a constructive manner will be attacked viciously by those of a liberal audience. Exposing young children to sexual deviate behaviors in the role of heroes should be, at the least, undesirable!

  4. Stephanie Whitney-Payne says:

    This program has been done everywhere to much acclaim. Anyone who doesn’t like the idea doesn’t have to go. This is 2022 and this program should not be controversial. It is part of being inclusive.

  5. Laura Bliss says:

    It seems perfectly clear that the board is overstepping. The librarians have been hired to do the job of programming within the vision established by the community to provide inclusive, educational and playful content for children. From everything I have read here and have heard they are doing an excellent job. Creative librarians are not a dime a dozen. Also this program has already been approved by other librarians and enjoyed by many children across the state. I can’t see where the problem is except that somebody on the board got triggered and didn’t do their homework. And the apparently secretive meetings, including the one today which has been advertised without enough notice to truly engage the public, present another concern that should be addressed.

    The library is one of the rare public institutions that is free and welcoming and should not be censured except in the case of provable harm. I can see no harm here except that caused by the irresponsible meddling of the board.

  6. James Clemer says:

    Are we to take it that there’s now a dress code for reading children’s books?

    Isn’t it quite difficult to hire qualified library personnel?

    If we ask very nicely and apologize is there any chance the library director might come back?

    This was a shameful act and a mark against our town. Even aside from the essential access to ideas that a public library ought to represent, there’s an economic and pragmatic question; how will the library maintain quality of service while visibly alienating librarians?

    Again for emphasis, this was a shameful act.

  7. Carrie Roy King says:

    Any email sent to Deirdre Doran, Whiting Library Director at whitinglibrary1@gmail.
    .com will be forwarded upon request to the Whiting Library Board of Trustees. There will be a public meeting held Thursday at 1 PM.

    Special Meeting – Thursday May 19th – 1 PM

    The meeting will be conducted via Zoom
    Zoom Link:

  8. Emily Burkland says:

    I want to come on here in support of this magical event (which is happening in Weston this weekend at their library for anyone interested – Saturday at 1:00pm I believe.) I am saddened to see this happening in Chester but glad to see the response in favor. Trying to do the library director’s job is not the role of the board. I hope that we can remove the board members causing this rift and try hard to return Deidre to her role.

  9. Tim Roper says:

    I think I’ll wait to see how all of this shakes out once the rest of the story comes to light. There’s a lot of conjecture here and I’ve learned that it’s generally better to give folks the benefit of the doubt in situations like that. The fact is that we don’t know what we don’t know.

  10. Meg Minehan says:

    I am writing to express my support for the Drag Queen Story Hour event. One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as a parent and educator living in rural Vermont is finding ways to access enriching and age appropriate programming which opens minds and hearts. When my children reached school age, we joined the Springfield Library to access their wide collection and variety of onsite programming. The monthly Golden Dome Book Clubs were a formative aspect of my kids’ education.

    I am grateful they had access to the diverse literature, group discussions, and mentors who helped open their hearts and minds to become more compassionate, self aware humans.

    I am so impressed by the programming I’ve seen advertised at the Whiting Library these past several months under the leadership of Deirdre Doran and Carrie King. Please trust their professional judgment and support their work in creating a safe space where young readers can celebrate kindness, diversity, and inclusion.

    Meg Minehan

  11. Kate Matracia says:

    It seems to me that there is some pot stirring happening over this program. Has anyone checked out who will be presenting it? Looked at their website content? It appears as if people are jumping into the fray without having all of the facts.

    This article doesn’t say the program is canceled. It says that the Board has asked for a “pause” before going forward with it in order to review the presenters and the content. That seems fair and forthright as well as protective of Chester children. Do not parents review movies, books, computer games, and social media before allowing their children to engage with them? Isn’t that why Parental Control locks are on computers, cellphones, and televisions?

    Chester residents, in general, are truly among the most inclusive people I have ever known. And the library content reflects that. This entire storm looks like a power struggle over who gets to run the library without oversight rather than a concern about a specific program and is using a rather sensitive topic currently hot in national news to do so. That this inclusive program is being used as a tool to do just that is a sad situation. Is the director truly planning to resign over a request for reviewing a program or is that being used as arm twisting in order to create a larger power base? Is the Board truly planning to cancel such an inclusive program or is it simply asking for a moment to review the content and the presenters?

    Perhaps it would be better for everyone to “pause” and find out all the facts and underlying issues before pointing fingers and making incendiary comments about what is “right” or “wrong” with the program, the director, the Board, and the library as a whole.

  12. Linda Diak says:

    The library board should get in front of this, ask the chair to step down, ask the library director to stay, and make a statement to that effect. This series of events occurred last week and have been in the news for three days now. It’s time. Trust and transparency are on the line.

  13. Steve Mancuso says:

    We have a our Library director threatening to resign over ‘alleged’ censoring she obviously felt was a violation of principle
    With a board allegedly responsible for i , allegedly deciding her fate in further meetings censored from the public
    That same board will be responsible for providing an explanation to the public.
    Wouldn’t that be a conflict of interest, where 3rd party mediation is required?

  14. Doug Friant says:

    I would suggest that the board reviews the requirements under the open meeting law to go into executive session. From the story, it sounds like the board wanted to review “Drag Queen Story Hours” behind closed doors, which would not be allowed under “contracts,” “labor relations agreements with employees” and “a disciplinary or dismissal action against a public officer or employee.” It is always better to discuss programing in public.

  15. Aleda Bliss says:

    (this is the letter i sent to the Board, in support of this event.)

    To the Board of Trustees of the Whiting Library,

    I am writing to express my upmost support for the Drag Queen Story Hour event on June 4th.

    As a patron of the Whiting Library since early childhood, this is exactly the kind of programing that I am thrilled to see, and feel embodies the spirit of what libraries are actually for.

    Libraries are free public spaces, where EVERYONE, irregardless of ANY demarcations with which we categorize people (i.e. financial status, race, sexual and gender identity, etc.), are welcome.

    Libraries, and the books within them, are portals to landscapes perhaps beyond our immediate surroundings; they invite us to engage with an infinite array of lives, some of which may be easily relatable to us, and some of which may challenge, stretch, and, hopefully, grow us.

    I am thrilled that, via this programming, the Whiting Library is continuing to grow and create safe spaces that encourage imagination, self-expression and the knowledge that we are ALL worthy of love, care and respect.

    In Trust,
    Aleda Bliss

  16. I also work in a Vermont library that has sponsored Drag Queen Story Hour.

    It’s a fun event where kids can learn about being accepting and tolerant of all kinds of people and they enjoy playing dress up.

    At Kimball Library in Randolph it was a very popular program.

    Really sorry to see that they board somehow decided to make this a thing. I support Deirdre Doran, who should feel free to contact the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Vermont Library Association if she needs some support or advice.

  17. Eva Ryan says:

    I applaud Chester Telegraph for providing a forum for unedited discussions. A town square if you will. Thank you.

    There was much concern on my part upon reading Chester Telegraph’s article regarding the resignation of Chester’s library director.

    During my 22-year residency here in Chester, I have observed a particular trend occurring… a trend that effects our community at its core.

    Chester is strong due to its diverse and accepting populace… However, I see that our mandated safe spaces are eroding…..

    The board of trustees are elected officials… we give consent and grant trustees of both our schools and library to represent our communities diverse interest.

    In my opinion, this can only be accomplished by having our schools and library stay near and dear to the voters and taxpayers of this towns, making both the schools and library a public venue, where there are no special interest imposed upon any of Chester’s residents.

    Thus allowing safe spaces for the most precious, the children of our community.

    The families have a right to create a strong foundation within their own home, with their own beliefs, and have the trust from the town of Chester, that families are secure of their life, liberty and property.

    It says clearly in the Declaration of Independence that us, free people, can rule themselves.

    Chester offers many venues where other cultures, beliefs etc. can be taught, shown etc.

    The bottom line for me, is that I believe in our families here in Chester, only with strong family and community can we thrive. This happens when we come together — not divide — respecting all.

    Coming together as a community can only occur if our schools and library remain neutral, creating safe spaces for all of communities interest. That is why the trustees are elected officials.

    Let’s keep Chester unique and allow us to live by our own values.

    Thank you again, Chester Telegraph, for allowing public discourse.

  18. Wendy Schwarz says:

    I am so sorry to see Deirdre resign. The cause as presented above is questioning by a board member over an approved program that is merited to benefit children. This questioning is appalling and is way out of line for it infringes on the rights of others.

    How else is a child supposed to develop if not through the freedom to experience critical thinking skills, the development of empathy, and the development of an open mind? Was this questioning presented with even a thought to research? Benjamin Franklin started the Free Public Library for our new nation. He meant free in many ways. Open a book = open the mind.
    BTW, the Native Americans had the wise insight to treasure the LGBTQ+ population for their wisdom, insight and mostly, their empathy. This empathy is sorely needed today. The children are our future.

  19. D Walker says:

    The Whiting Library has always had such wonderful things going on. It is a gem in our community. I am often pleasantly amazed by the things I see they are doing. I say keep up the good work! And as someone stated above, go or don’t go, just don’t censor based on personal, or old fashioned or antique ideas of what is or is not controversial. The number of participants will give the library the info on whether something was a success or not. A board should be there for guidance, not control!!!!!!!

  20. Chris Burks says:

    My family moved to Chester from Texas last year. The actions of people who believe they are morally superior and ‘know what’s best’ is a large part of why we left. We came here to raise our kids in a part of the country that would be more inclusive and less bound by unreasonable bias.

  21. Barre Pinske says:

    How did I get drug into this one? Let me say a world with out humor is a sad world. I reserve my right to make jokes even if I’m the only one who finds them funny it often makes it funnier. On a serious note I can be equally as serious so there’s a balance. The night being referenced was stressful I was not comfortable speaking in public about my merits for the position I had no desire to try to win by talking about myself in comparison to others. I would have preferred they had chosen from the letters or private interviews as was the plan. I think it went well Arne did a great job making every one feel comfortable. After it was over I was thinking lighten the mood a made a joke it’s what I do that’s why I get invited to really good dinner parties! Robert and I are friends I’m excited to work with him I respect him very much. I let him know that in a text that evening. I look forward to to getting to know the others. On this topic what an amazing thing Drag Queen book reading it stirs up a lot of emotions that’s what good performance art does. I googled it found some news stories it help me process it. Parents choose to go it looked like mostly little kids who still believe in Santa were there it probably seemed like dress up fun for them. I don’t think it will lead to pole dancers reading at the library next but if they do I’d go! Gotcha! I’m kidding people! I vote for everyone to take a deep breath exhale and lighten up a little. Life is inherently hard we’ve all been through a lot. Let’s try to enjoy each other and the gifts we have.

  22. MJ Miles says:

    Really??? A program is a program like it go don’t do not go! But it is in my opinion equally as ignorant to apply all’s or nothing’s to political groups red, blue or green for that matter. I am not shocked by Chesters underlying special interest groups. Do agree Barry Pinske yet again inappropriate! But hey we foolishly give him clout again!!! It is after all Chester!

  23. Susan Bailey says:

    I was saddened to learn of the library’s issue with the Drag Queen Story Hour. I recently learned of an issue in a red state where some community members were up in arms about a drag performance for children at an arts festival.

    I was saddened by that, as well, but not shocked considering their politics. But this shocked me as I don’t associate Chester with that mindset.

    I too applied to be on the cannabis board and didn’t make the cut. Near the end of the meeting after Barre Pinske had also been appointed, he said Mr. Nied and him wanted to take the short bus to training. While I suspect Pinske was only speaking for himself, I found his comment extremely offensive and was disappointed that Mr. Nied didn’t object. I’m new to the area so I may be wrong in my assumptions and perhaps Mr. Nied may not be the person I thought him to be. The jury is still out.

  24. Thom Simmons says:

    Has anyone else noticed a pattern here?

    After cheerleading for a community greenhouse project for months, literally half the board resigned in basic disagreement over the project.

    After fighting against the overwhelmingly passed cannabis opt-in, Mr. Nied then quickly moved to be appointed to the local control board, not on any pretense of objectivity, but in anticipation of “future changes” in the law.

    Now the library, whose director and staff have been community-minded and incredible assets to Chester, is in chaos because of an effort to ‘control’ the messaging to his satisfaction.

    One need only look at the lawsuits filed in Schoharie County, N.Y., his former home, to see a pattern of community controversy.

    We seem to have a small collection of self-styled morality police in Chester who have their fingers in many pots. It’s time they got called out on it, and removed.

  25. Tamasin Kekic says:

    I completely agree with the comments above in support of hosting a Drag Queen Story Hour at the Whiting Library as part of the summer programming during Pride Month. Our town library should represent a place for everybody in the public to feel welcome, a place to celebrate diversity and inclusion through books, programming, and shared learning. I am not understanding what could warrant seven hours of closed meetings about a story time program that celebrates diversity, particularly for marginalized LGTBQ people if this is in line with the library mission of inclusion?
    The quality and diversity of the children’s programming at the Whiting Library in recent years has been most excellent under the creative and professional leadership of Director Deirdre and Carrie the Youth services librarian. I am very sorry to hear about Deirdre’s letter of resignation and I look forward to learning more about this misunderstanding.

  26. Patrick Spurlock says:

    As a degree holding ALA-accredited librarian and academic library director I am appalled to read this story. This program has run successfully without issue in Bellows Falls and reeks of intolerance on the part of the Chester board.

  27. Suellen Slater says:

    I am appalled the Whiting Trustees needed to make this a controversial issue. And before they say they just wanted to “discuss it” I will say the act of needing to discuss it is what makes it controversial.

    It should not be controversial; it should just be another way of sharing with our children good stories read by someone they have never met before.

    Exposing our children to diversity should not be controversial. I applaud the director for wanting to bring a successful program to our library. We should go out of our way to expose our children to all the different types of people that make up our world so they experience the entirety of the world even if they live in a small town in VT.