February 17, 2018

Philadelphia Library Union Protests Associate Director’s “Evil” Email

By LJ Staff

The long-simmering dispute between staffers and management at the Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP) reached a fever pitch in late October, after associate director Kevin Vaughan accidentally sent an email rudely denouncing a branch manager to that manager rather than its intended recipient, director Elliot Shelkrot. The union called for Vaughan to be removed from his position. Shelkrot criticized him but did not specify a punishment. The incident has roots in the FLP’s failed attempt, faced with budget cuts, to turn 20 branches into part-time facilities staffed only by paraprofessionals. The fight against that, and to restore money to the library budget, earned City Council members Michael Nutter and Frank DiCicco LJ‘s Politician of the Year award. For the Wyoming Branch’s 75th Anniversary on October 29, branch manager Suzin Rigsby thought the library, or the Friends group, should honor Nutter and DeCicco, and sent her thoughts to Shelkrot, cc’ing her manager, Vaughan, among others.

An email came back from Vaughan: "Evil comes in many forms – this is surely one of them. A tar baby if ever there was one. She is wicked to the core." (Apparently, he was referencing the trap set for Br’er Rabbit in the Uncle Remus stories.) Then he sent an apology: "I quickly read a note from you to Elliot regarding the Wyoming Anniversary. In my quick reading of the E-mail, I over reacted to what I perceived as an attempt to embarrass Elliot, and to take the attention away from all of our efforts to move on and restore the Library to full service. I inadvertently sent my private thoughts about this event to you instead of to him. I was wrong. I apologize for that and for my harsh words as well."

The union found that unacceptable, and called for Vaughan’s removal. Mike Walsh, President of AFSCME Local 2186, said, "This derogatory email illustrates the ongoing pattern of intimidation and retaliation that exists at the Free Library." After a story about the issue aired on local television, Shelkrot sent a message to his staff on October 27: "Associate Director Kevin Vaughan wrote an inappropriate email about a staff member which he intended to send to me. Accidentally he sent that email to the staff member. I believe many of you have already received a copy of these communications. This kind of communication is wrong and unacceptable. Kevin is deeply sorry for this mistake and has apologized. Nonetheless, appropriate action will be taken." The incident overshadows news that the city has restored full service to 10 branches that lost hours earlier this year because of budget cuts.