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Times of Wayne County

Outrage and sadness in dispute over Historic collection

Thursday’s meeting of the Palmyra Community Library’s Board of Trustees was loaded with public comment, pleadings and outrage, as the ownership of certain historic records were challenged.

According to Executive Director of Historic Palmyra, Bonnie Hays, she and the members of the Historic Palmyra board were present at the Library meeting under the assumption that they would be meeting one-on-one with their board. When they arrived, it was discovered that the meeting was a general Library Board meeting and Bonnie and her board would only be allowed to speak during the public comment portion. “Besides having to sign in to be on the agenda, we were given only three minutes to speak,” said the Director.

As concisely as she could, Bonnie used her time to try to cover the documented history of the historic books and records from 1934 to present. The agreements were between the Palmyra Kings Daughters Library (which was the original name of the library) and the Palmyra Historical Society.

“According to our records, in 1934, the Kings Daughters Library invited the Historical Society to house their collection in a room at their new building on Cuyler Street,” stated Hays. As the Historical Society had little room at the time, they agreed to house their collection at the library and maintain it. Hayes continued, explaining that in 1976, the Library asked that the Historical Society remove their items so that the library could expand its own collection. Hays said the Historical Society agreed and did take the items, but they were only the items the Library decided to give them.

“In our Book of Collections” dated from 1936 to 1965, the 10 pages of donations to the Historical Society Library are documented,” Bonnie reported.

“In 1952 the Museum board did an inventory. We have all these documents, and we have shared this information with the Library.”

In the wording that accepted the items back in 1976, (the library called it“gifting”), Bonnie said the Library was thanked for housing the collection all those years, and that the Historical Society would maintain and keep safe the records for the Palmyra community.

“At some point, the Library Board said that the Historical Society had disbanded and all collections therefore became the property of the library, but in checking all of our minutes, that is not true,” said Hays.

Another contention with the Historic Palmyra and their supporters stems from minutes of the Palmyra Community Library Board from last fall. In the minutes, according to Hays, the library stated that it has the right to sell or donate anything in their collection that does not serve their mission purpose, is a duplicate item, or is not necessary for display. “Part of that collection includes items such as a 1st edition Book of Mormon,” Bonnie sadly admits. “I would hate to see anything happen to that.”

Several members of the Historic Palmyra board also spoke passionately at the meeting, including Joan Shaffer, Ralph Kommer, and Irene Unterborn.

Palmyra Community Library board president Jennifer Voss did not return a call to comment on the conflict, but the board’s attorney, who was present at the meeting, offered comments.

Acccording to the Library Board’s legal counsel, Anita Pelletier of Nixon Peabody LLP, the two boards of directors could not meet privately, as they are subject to open meeting laws. That is why Historic Palmyra members were allowed time to speak during public comments time.

“The board (Palmyra Community Library Board) has reviewed the issue and they have concluded that they are the owners of the historic items and records in question. The board had no current plans to sell any of the items,” said Pelletier. “The board further would like to reiterate that they are open to Historic Palmyra offering proposals for the public display of any of the items.”

“At this point, it’s just so mind blowing to have them so devisive,” said Historic Palmyra board member Joan Shaffer, about the library’s unwavering stance. “It’s not over.”

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