Sex Scandal Rocks the Westchester Library System

Yes, that headline is a bait and switch. But I only did it because what I have to tell you is important and serious and not titillating, and I am desperate to get my fellow Westchesterites on board, so please forgive me. There is a scandal, but apparently, no one noticed the terrible thing that just happened, and we need to do something.

If you live here, you already know what an expensive place Westchester County is. Why? Because it’s a quick train trip into the city. Because it has amazing parks and recreation areas. Because Westchester has more than its share of schools that educate, excite, and motivate kids to reach ever higher. It has museums and cultural events, and places to revel in classical music or rock out to the blues. And the Westchester Library System (WLS) has a comprehensive Youth Services department which serves a quarter of a million children – 25% of our population.

No, wait. Make that served. Because recently, after 30 years of dedicated service to the children of our county, Judith Rovenger, the head of the WLS Youth Services was told, in effect, Listen, after you enjoy your ham and cheese sandwich for lunch, don’t bother coming back.

Thirty years. No two week notice for Ms. Rovenger and her staff. No warning. Not even a crummy farewell party with a sad “Goodbye Loyal Staff” banner and a cardboard-flavored supermarket cake. In fact, the entire Youth Services staff was summarily dismissed like a bunch of temps with no connection to the business they served.

And these people had a strong connection to their business – they were the dots connecting our county’s children’s librarians, creating the full picture. They enlightened them about the latest tech and social media, connecting the system to this century and thereby keeping kids interested; they connected them to local authors; they were on top of the latest trends in what kids are thinking, and how their brains are being rewired through technology. Now that big picture is gone. There is no connection.

I spoke to Judith Rovenger and she told me that the stated decision is “financial necessity”. So why, she asks, do the future plans include creating a new position and hire a fundraiser as well as give three percent raises to remaining staff? Most shocking is that the staff reductions are in anticipation of cuts that haven’t yet happened.  The county approved last year’s budget without a cut and the state has not done so as of yet!

The director might say that other library systems are either doing this or considering it.
Which of course doesn’t make it right.  The scary thing is that other systems are watching what happens here and this will provide further ammunition for similar cuts to be made elsewhere.

So, to the Westchester Library System’s Terry Kirchner, Executive Director, and
Patricia Dohrenwend, President, Board of Directors, I say, do you no longer believe what is on your website? That “WLS Youth Services assists children’s librarians in improving the quality of life for every youngster in Westchester County by assuring that children’s reading and informational needs are met by expert and caring librarians.”?

Don’t you want to continue to improve the quality of life for every youngster in our county?

You claim on the site that “Westchester’s libraries are among the finest in the country and our children’s and young adult librarians are among the most accomplished and dedicated anywhere.”

So why’d you fire them? And why would you do it in such a shameful and disrespectful way?

The site goes on to state that “Westchester’s libraries are the finest in the country. WLS provides professional support, development and training so that our librarians are among the most accomplished and dedicated anywhere.”

How will that be possible without the Youth Services department? What is your plan? Get other employees to punt?  What did you do prior to the firing to try to raise the money so that this county can continue to be among the finest in the United States?

Will you still put out the message that “Libraries are a vital resource for children and families because success in school and life begins with reading. Since libraries are an essential part of preparing children to learn and read, WLS offers programs and materials for infants, babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers—and for their parents, grandparents, daycare workers and nursery school teachers.”?

Will you no longer be promising that “For older kids, libraries offer homework help and support to students as well as opportunities to expand their imaginations and have fun as they learn.”?

I admit that for me, this is a personal, smaller story. I grew up here, and am a children’s author in part because of the influence of my librarians. As a local author I am so grateful for the support from the WLS and from Judith Rovenger in particular. When my book Party Animals was published, I had a public launch party and I asked if I could put some invitation postcards around some of the Westchester libraries. Judith Rovenger made sure every library in the county received a big stack of them. Hundreds of people from across the county showed up!

It breaks my heart that children won’t be served anymore by a central hub with the care and expertise that the Youth Services department had. Not only am I embarrassed that they were dismissed in such an abrupt and insulting way after serving our county for so long, but I’m scared. This is really more than an institution losing its humanity – it is about the lack of priority given to children and young people in a county that prides itself on education.  A society (or, in this case, an institution) demonstrates how it values children by how it values those who take care of children. The children’s and teen librarians will be the ones to feel the loss of support and ultimately it affects the children they serve.

Ms. Rovenger told me, “My motivation for talking about this is that this shouldn’t go unnoticed.  That under the cover of budget constraints, small but profound choices are being made that will add up to something larger–which we may not want and it will be too late.” 

It is important for the WLS Board and director to know that people are watching.  That people have noticed and will continue to watch and call them to account for their decisions. My family has made a big donation to our local library. I have spent my time writing this and distributing it to my fellow authors and local publications. I will send this to County Executive Robert P. Astorino at his office at the address below, and encourage you to send him a letter, email or call, too.

I am making my voice heard and my dissatisfaction known.

What else can we do to help right this? What will you do?

To call or email our County Executive: 914-995-2900, or email him here.

Robert P. Astorino, County Executive
900 Michaelian Building
48 Martine Ave.

White Plains, NY 10601

Katie Davis bio:
Children’s author/illustrator Katie Davis has published nine books and appears monthly on the ABC affiliate show, Good Morning Connecticut, recommending great books for kids. She produces Brain Burps About Books, a podcast about kidlit, a blog and monthly newsletter. Katie volunteers in a maximum security prison teaching Writing for Children and over the last dozen years has presented at schools and writing conferences. She’s a 2010 Cybils judge and has also judged the Golden Kite,, and Frontiers in Writing awards. Recently Katie was selected to be on the Honorary Advisory Board for the Brooke Jackman Foundation, a literacy-based charity.

Recent Comments

  • miriamthelibrarian
    January 9, 2011 - 12:38 pm · Reply

    I just found out about your excellent blog post regarding the elimination of Judith Rovenger's & John Sexton's positions while attending the ALA Midwinter Conference.
    As a Children's Librarian in Westchester, I share your outrage & concern over this senseless,demeaning, counterproductive decision by Terry Kirchner, the WLS Executive Director. It's pretty clear that he doesn't know the first thing about public library service.
    I'd love to discuss with you ways to bring this story to wider public notice.
    Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Library

  • Katie Davis
    January 9, 2011 - 1:20 pm · Reply

    Thanks, Miriam! I'd love to talk more about this. Whatever we can do to help. I sent it to the local papers but nothing happened.

  • mary-j-59
    January 18, 2011 - 10:08 pm · Reply

    Yes, thanks! This is such a serious situation; Judith was a mentor to me and is a friend, and there were really fine people in the department. Now it's gone! What on earth are our priorities as librarians, and as citizens? Do we not value our children?

    I and my sister Deirdre (also a librarian in Westchester) tweeted this, and I'm linking on my blog. I'll do what I can.


  • Katie Davis
    January 19, 2011 - 6:06 am · Reply

    Thank you, Mary, and to your sister, Dierdre, too. As you may have seen on my blog, I also podcast about kidlit, and have been thinking about doing a Westchester Library System episode. Maybe if I get enough calls from area librarians on my hotline it would make it much more powerful to hear from the voices around the county…(hint hint!) The number is 888-522-1929.

  • pigbitinmad
    April 5, 2017 - 2:39 pm · Reply

    I would bet a million dollars it is age discrimination. Libraries have gone corporate and want to get rid of anyone over 30.
    I was stupid to pick this as a second career. I was 45 when I got my MLS and now I am 55. Been literally bashing my brains out against a solid brick wall interviewing and sending resumes and getting myself on civil service lists.
    All for nothing. Yet, MEN like this Terry Kirchner are older and they don’t seem to want to step down and “give back.” It’s only the women who make up most of the work force and almost none of the leadership. I’m sorry, but I should not be expected to “give back” until I am retired. And the last time I checked, the retirement age was not 45 – 55, but 67.
    I would have done better to go into modeling [and in case you haven’t figured that out, that is A JOKE!]

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