By Katy Savage
The Brandon Free Public Library temporarily closed Aug. 6 for 10 days after a staff member was threatened with sexual assault from a person in the community.
Library Director Molly Kennedy said the threat was made against a female library clerk on June 30. Kennedy was informed about the incident on July 1 through Rutland Mental Health Services (RHMS). Kennedy said the staff member, hired a month prior to the threat, has been on paid leave since then. The library now has just two full-time employees since another staff member moved away in early August.
“We’re already working more hours than we’re paid for,” said Kennedy.
While the library is closed until Aug. 16 for remaining staff to take planned vacations, Kennedy is hoping Rutland Mental Health Services takes action to resolve the issue. “We’re hoping that this is buying time for the designated agency to make support,” she said.
Kennedy said the threat came from a neighbor of the library, but declined to confirm the name of the individual.
Police have been in contact with Shane Bartshe, a Brandon resident who was charged with allegedly attempting to rape his caregiver in 2019. Bartshe told police at that time that he wanted to continue to rape, according to an affidavit.
“The nature of the threat, coupled with the individual’s past history of assault, makes this situation not a sustainable situation for our employee,” Kennedy said. “Everyone in the area is pretty aware of the issues we’ve been having. It’s not a huge surprise to the community.”
Kennedy partially blamed the Rutland mental health facility’s lack of action on the library’s closure.
“They’re not really interested in communicating with us about any actions that they are taking on their end,” Kennedy said, explaining the Brandon police have been in touch with the library throughout this process and has been responsive.
Library board president David Roberts sent a letter to Dick Courcelle, the CEO of Rutland Mental Health Services on July 19 with concerns about Bartshe.
Courcelle said in response that the issue is a “top priority” for RHMS and the organization is working with the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living (DAIL).
“I can assure you that RMHS has in no way ‘abdicated’ its responsibility in this matter,” Courcelle said in a copy of his email. “How we got here is a long and complex road, involving multiple service providers and agencies over a significant period of time.”
DAIL Commissioner Monica White sent an email on July 29 to Roberts and Brandon Select Board chair Seth Hopkins. She explained that there’s no court order requiring RMHS or any other agency to provide 24/7 supervision of the individual.
“Upon learning of the situation, RMHS has restructured and enhanced service delivery for this client to coincide specifically with the open hours of the Brandon Library,” White said in a copy of her email.
“Misinformation continues to circulate about the client’s diagnosis, legal status, conditions of release, etc., which is perpetuating a misunderstanding of the role and legal powers of the various entities working together to best address this situation in the safest manner possible for all involved,” White continued. “We respectfully suggest that the continued escalation of this matter is having the opposite effect of its intent, and is instead further complicating the current situation.”
White declined to go into further details, citing privacy concerns, when contacted for an interview.
Hopkins, who chairs the Brandon Select Board, was hopeful RMHS would take action.
“We take them at their word and hope that all the public and private agencies working in concert will be successful in bringing their expertise to bear in a way that provides the client what he needs and the community what it needs,” Hopkins said in an interview. “The temporary closure of the library serves to strike a bell that our mental health system requires strengthening.”
The Brandon library is small but serves about 6,000 patrons. The volume of people it serves puts it into a category with some of the state’s largest libraries. The library served around 320 people each day through the month of July. The Brandon library, like others, has a long history of working with individuals experiencing mental health issues.
“We do so much more than just check out books,” Kennedy said. “We’re truly a community center in a small community where there isn’t a community center.”
The library distributes food to those in need weekly and is a cooling center on hot days. Kennedy said library staff help the community with housing and food insecurity.
“It’s not the people who can’t get their books that I’m concerned about,” Kennedy said. “What really breaks my heart is the couple that comes in every Tuesday to file their unemployment claims because they’re illiterate.”
Kennedy said libraries across the country are dealing with escalating mental health problems.
“There’s not a lot of infrastructure in our country to address some of these issues we are facing, obviously, as evidenced by the issues we’re having,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy has worked at the library for 16 years. She said it’s never closed for an extended period of time. The Brandon library was one of the few that remained open through the pandemic. A neighboring library is offering services to Brandon patrons in the meantime.
Patrons of the Brandon Free Library can access books at the Rutland Free Library until Brandon reopens. Randal Smathers, the director of the Rutland Free Library, said he reached out to Kennedy after a library meeting on Aug. 2 after learning about her ongoing issues.
“The idea that one person going through unfortunate circumstances could force a library to close wasn’t something that sat well with me,” Smathers said. “Dealing with people who have mental health issues is part of a public library. We all deal with it.”
Kennedy said the library may reopen Aug. 16 with reduced hours and help from volunteers.
“Patrons have been overwhelmingly supportive,” Kennedy said. “They’ve been unpleasantly surprised that this has happened. I’m pinning all my hopes on Rutland Mental Health coming through.”