I do not know Elissa Malespina. As far as I recall, I have never even shaken her hand. But over the past few years, when we were permitted in the Learning Commons for meetings or events, I always looked at the books she had on display. They were usually new, interesting, and from a variety of genres.
Over the summer, I heard rumors that she was fired due to a controversy with the books in the library. I dismissed it as just that, rumors. This was Verona, we don’t fire librarians for the books they display or recommend. Apparently, I was very wrong.
As an attorney, I know there are multiple sides to every story. And as an education attorney, I know the Board will not comment and should not comment on individual hiring or firing decisions. But this is not just about the loss of what appears to be an exceptional member of our district’s staff, but the message it sends to the other staff, teachers, students, and administrators – if certain people do not like what you do or teach you are the next one out. It is this type of climate and culture that good diversity, equity, and inclusion programming is designed to combat.
Over the past 18 months, the Board of Education has heard from dozens of students who have talked about the climate and culture at Verona, particularly the high school, not being welcoming, and at times hostile, toward students of color and in the LGBTQ+ community. Just a few days ago, I posted about this on my campaign website and Facebook page. Firing a librarian because someone did not like the books she displayed is feeding into this culture and climate of not accepting the diverse population we are in Verona; of “othering” those that are different from the traditional white, cis-gendered population.
As a child, and even now as an adult, books provide a refuge, a safe place where I can discover new possibilities. As I have said before, I have multiple books on my kindle at any time. I cannot recall the last time I took a physical book from the library, but I have lost count of the number of books I have read this year alone. I mention this because this is not about a drop in book circulation (during a pandemic). That is the excuse.
As I stated above, the Board of Education cannot comment on individual hiring and firing decisions, however, they can look at the reasoning behind those decisions and if there is a reason not related to actual job performance. They also can look to see if there is a pattern of staff departures due to the climate and culture at the high school.
I was happy to see that Ms. Malespina has a new position. I wish her the best of luck in her new district. However, I am saddened that Verona lost this incredible member of our library staff and that my children will not have the opportunity to learn from this apparently caring and insightful librarian. I also wonder how many other Ms. Malespinas we have lost over the years due to similar actions.
I will end as I started – if you want to ban books without actually banning books – Fire the librarian. That is what happened here.