Librarian shocked over events that led to resignation

2010-10-28T11:10:00Z Librarian shocked over events that led to resignationTammy Real-McKeighan/Fremont Tribune Fremont Tribune
October 28, 2010 11:10 am  • 

A former Hooper librarian, who resigned over a disagreement regarding her efforts to help immigrants learn English, said she was shocked by what occurred when she went to remove her personal belongings from the library.

A city official and the police chief disagree with her view of the situation.

Karla Shafer worked part time at the small-town library for almost six years. During her tenure, Shafer obtained more than $30,000 in grants for the library. More than $15,800 of that money went to automate the library while another $4,200 was used for an area for teens. She also obtained two $5,000 grants from the American Library Association for the "American Dream starts @ your library" project offered with funds from The Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

Hooper's library was the smallest in the nation, and the only Nebraska library, to receive one of these grants in 2008. Shafer used the funds to buy books for people wanting to learn English and books for enjoyment in Spanish. She also purchased provisions to help people become American citizens. She's used funds from the second grant to buy more materials.

Shafer said she wasn't able to find a building where she could teach English as a Learned Language lessons, but planned to take her recreational vehicle to a park and teach when the weather was nice.

Then on Sept. 8, Shafer said a council person came to the library and during their discussion said "we don't like it that you want you to go to Nickerson."

Shafer said she would go to Nickerson on her day off, with her own vehicle, without being paid by the city.

"Really, I'd be there on behalf of the National Literacy Program for Dollar General - not the city of Hooper," she said.

But Shafer, who didn't release the official's name, said she was told that if she went to Nickerson, people would think she was there on behalf of the Hooper library. Shafer told the council member that she could do what she wanted on her day off.

City Council President Gene Meyer has his own view of the discussion.

"We have Hispanic people in Hooper. Why can't you teach them in Hooper?" Meyer said. "I never told her that she could not go to Nickerson. That grant, as far as I know, was in the name of the city of Hooper so I thought that money should be spent in the city of Hooper.

"This has got so carried out of line. It's unbelievable."

At one point, Shafer said the council member also listed things he didn't like. He didn't want her in the library when it was closed. Shafer told the council member that she's been allowed to work four hours when the library was closed for administration and one for cleaning. Shafer said the official told her that he was going to see that changed, because he was concerned about the cost of heating and air conditioning when patrons weren't in the library.

After talking with the city council member, Shafer said she decided to resign.

"I wanted the support of my community and I had it from everyone, but the council and I thought they were just not supportive, but if they were going to try to prevent me from my right to teach English on my day off, then I couldn't have that," she said.

Shafer submitted her letter of resignation at the library's regular board meeting. She said board members were shocked and saddened by her resignation.

"I really felt bad," said board member Bonnie Wobken. "I thought she was a wonderful asset to the library. She automated it and that took quite some time. ... Being on the board was just a real pleasure with her. She always had stuff right up to snuff for us."

Wobken said Shafer started a book club and was active with young library patrons.

"They were always happy to go in there," she said.

Joyce Knoell said she was voted on to the library board, but declined the position after Shafer's resignation. Knoell also praised Shafer and her work.

"She was absolutely wonderful. She loved her job. You knew you could go in and see her and she was so happy and bubbly," Knoell said.

A few days after she resigned, Shafer said she went to the library, after hours, to get her personal belongings, which she said were many after almost six years of providing decorations and props to entertain the children. She arrived with a trailer and was accompanied by family members.

Shafer said they pulled up in the alley and the police chief opened the back door. He and the city clerk were in the library. Shafer said the police chief took a phone call. When he returned, he said the mayor had told him to take Shafer's keys to the library, to make sure what she was taking was hers and to escort her out of the library.

"The policeman inspected everything I was taking to make sure it was mine," she said. "I felt like a criminal and that's when I cried.

"I always thought everyone knew they could trust me. For about 5 3/4 years, I'd been taking things into the library and, so now, I was bringing them home. I would never have dreamed that someone would not trust me to take just what was mine."

Shafer said she also was questioned about how much of the grant money was left and what would happen to it. Shafer told the Tribune that the money has been spent and the curriculum and teaching tools belong to the library and are still there.

Shafer said she was escorted out in front of her children and grandchildren.

"I was shocked to have been escorted out like that," she said. "I had given more than two weeks notice and I thought I'd have that time to have closure, especially with the children. I wanted to have a going away party for them. I didn't want them to be shocked at the loss of me, because you form a bond when you're the only staff and the children grow up before your eyes."

Police Chief Matt Schott said he and the clerk were in the building when Shafer arrived. Schott said he recommended to Shafer that if she were going to be in the library after hours that it would be a good idea to have the city clerk or someone else there so rumors wouldn't fly that she was taking things.

Schott said he didn't escort her out of the building.

"She has made this whole thing into something it's not," he said.

Meyer also said Shafer didn't have to resign. Shafer said she was devastated by what happened.

"I was very, very hurt," she said. "It was embarrassing."

She still wants to help people learn English.

"Good things come out of hard things and I will survive, a little scarred, but a little wiser and it doesn't change my love for people who want to have what I have to offer," she said. "I'm a simple, honest American, who wants others to have their American dream."

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