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FWNBC uncovers document showing ACPL used “containment tactics” to deal with “frustrating” coverage of controversial book weeding

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne’s NBC) – Fort Wayne’s NBC has uncovered a document through a public records request which shows the Allen County Public Library used what their public relations team called “containment tactics” to deal with what it viewed as “frustrating” coverage and public reaction to its policies and procedures regarding book weeding.

The “Public Relations Plan” was drafted after the Journal Gazette ran an article on December 23, 2018, and an opinion/editorial piece in January of 2019.

Under the “Goals” section the plan reads:

  • “Admittedly, the coverage and reaction (such as it is) have been frustrating. However, because there has been no actual wrongdoing on the part of the ACPL, our goals are related to Education and Containment, as opposed to Reputation Risk Management.” 

You can read the document obtained by Fort Wayne’s NBC News here:

Fort Wayne’s NBC News sent an email to the ACPL asking several questions regarding the newly uncovered public relations plan.

Stephanny Smith, the public employee who is paid by your tax dollars to facilitate public communication, told Fort Wayne’s NBC Anchor Tom Powell, “the community’s concerns have been heard and addressed in multiple ways, including the March 27, 2019, public meeting; monthly Board of Trustees meetings; the written responses delivered by the Trustees to the community on April 30, 2019;  public tours of the library’s spaces; and media interviews.”

She also responded by saying that FWNBC’s “current line of inquiry moves this conversation backward” and denied our request for an on-camera interview with Director Greta Southard to address concerns raised by members of the community after parts of the public relations plan first became public.

Alarmed by missing books and empty shelves, library regular and Kim Fenoglio initially raised concerns about book weeding and started a petition. 

She believes the current leadership’s direction has lead to a large scale downsize of its collection.

RELATED: Book weeding moratorium continues after public meeting as ACPL agrees to answer more questions

Greta Southard, Director of the Allen County Public Library

During a previous interview with Fort Wayne’s NBC, Director Southard took issue with the phrase “large-scale downsize.”

We found the phrase used in the description of a presentation her staff gave at a 2018 industry conference.

“I don’t control the words everyone always uses,” Southard says. “If they use the words ‘large-scale downsize,’ we did not say we want to eliminate “X” number of books by “X” point in time.”

We showed Fenoglio the newly uncovered document which lays out the public relations plan.

She responded with the following statement:

“This PR plan is a clear example of how the director’s entire approach has been about SPIN and not about engaging with the community or explaining the loss of 1.4 million books. Ms. Southard and her administration have had an agenda from the start that had nothing to do with honoring the legacy of the ACPL collection or the taxpayers who fund it, which is why everything she has done has happened under the cover of night. Once she was caught, her PR team has spent all their time working to “contain it.” It is, frankly, nauseating and goes miles in showing Ms. Southard’s disdain for the truth and the public’s right to it. She is much more concerned with saying she is listening than with actually listening.”

When asked whether the library director and board have adequately answered the public’s concerns, Fenoglio responded:

“While we are grateful for the board-mandated actions taken to protect the collection and to address the work environment for staff, we do not feel that all of the questions asked by the public have been answered. “We don’t know” is not an acceptable answer. Because of this continued lack of transparency on the part of the director, we remain concerned. It is disconcerting to think about the director engaging with a PR team on a containment plan so quickly after the discarding of the books came to light. It signals to us that she is not truly on board with the will of the public she serves. Rather, she is concerned with making this go away as quickly as possible so she can get back to implementing her vision for our library.”

Stephanny Smith, Community Engagement Manager for the Allen County Public Library

When asked why library leadership decided it needed to “contain the story to the Journal Gazette” the library’s spokesman, Smith, responded by email saying:

“False information was being reported. The entire communications plan was centered on sharing a complete picture to our community and staff on how collection management has been carried out in the Allen County Public Library system. It is worth noting the following goal included in that plan: ‘Increase internal and external understanding of collection management process.'”

Smith did not answer a follow-up question asking for specific examples of false information being reported.

Author Profile Photo

Tom Powell

Tom Powell is the co-anchor of Fort Wayne’s NBC News at 5, 6 and 11 with Linda Jackson. Tom is also the Assistant News Director at Fort Wayne’s NBC.

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