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Franklin library and its friends group are feuding

A statue of Benjamin Franklin outside the town’s library.

Ellen Ishkanian for The Boston Globe

A statue of Benjamin Franklin outside the town’s library.

There is an old-fashioned turf war going on at the Franklin Public Library, which was founded in 1790 with a gift of three books by the town’s namesake, Benjamin Franklin.

And at the root of the infighting, to the surprise of few, are power and money.

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On one side is the library’s board of directors, whose members — appointed by the town administrator — say they have the sole responsibility for setting library policy. On the other is the Friends of the Franklin Library, a volunteer group of supporters who want a say in how the $6,000 to $7,000 they raise at book fairs each fall and spring is spent.

The tug of war was being waged behind the scenes for months, but spilled into the open when the directors abruptly canceled the Friends’ fall book sale. In its place, the library is selling old books through an ongoing process that officials say is “extremely successful,” and there are plans to hold monthly, themed sales at the library.

“It’s the library’s books being sold, it’s our money,” Cynthia Dobrzynski, chairwoman of the board of directors, said about the proceeds from the Friends’ annual sales. “There is no reason for that money not to be turned over directly to us.”

The president of the Friends of the Franklin Library, Maria Lucier, sees things a little differently.

“I agree that money is at the root of this, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for a request for FoFL funds that describes how the money is planned to be spent.” she wrote in an e-mail to the Globe.

‘I think in theend, it will all work out. Everyone needs to take a timeout.If we don’t havea book sale once, it’s not the endof the world.’

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Lucier said all her group wants is specific requests for funds, such as a certain amount for museum passes, videos, books, or programs.

And while she said there is no desire to micromanage which books are purchased, for example, she did say her group has asked for a report on museum pass usage, “just to verify that the passes we paid for were indeed being used.” She said the Friends also wanted to see usage reports to gauge which passes were popular, “and maybe cancel those that were not.”

Dobrzynski says those requests are outside of the volunteer group’s responsibilities.

“When you give money to the Cancer Society you can’t tell them how to spend the money,” she said.

Dobrzynski also said the group has not given promised money to the library “in a timely fashion,” and that its estimates of $12,000 to $14,000 in proceeds from the two book sales are “overly optimistic.”

According to library administrators and boards in other communities, it is not unusual for groups of supporters to get a full accounting of how the proceeds of book sales are to be spent.

“They make requests for programs, author talks, music series, and whatever else they might request, and we take it into consideration,” said Mary Alice Wistman, president of the Friends of the Belmont Public Library. “I can’t think of anything we haven’t funded.”

She said the town’s elected library trustees tell her group “exactly what they want to spend the money on.”

The Marlborough Public Library’s director, Margaret Carbello, described her and the trustees’ relationship with the Friends of the Marlborough Public Library as “wonderful.”

Carbello said the Friends group often directly pays invoices, and as a policy “needs to see something before they pay.”

For example, she said, if they fund a performance, they would want to see the contract, or if they fund museum passes, they would want to see the renewal forms.

“They do so much for the library, and by extension, for the community,” she said.

In Franklin, the fractured relationship between the library groups is something that even diplomat Benjamin Franklin may have had trouble mediating.

According to the library’s website, soon after the decision to name the town after Franklin, local leaders asked him to donate a bell for the church steeple.

Instead, saying “sense” was preferable to “sound,” Franklin donated the books that Town Meeting members voted to make available at no charge to townspeople. That vote started the nation’s first public library.

More than 220 years later, 300 boxes of books are sitting in storage trailers at the town’s Department of Public Works waiting to be sold.

Town Administrator Jeffrey D. Nutting, who met with both sides, is confident the two groups will eventually be able to work together.

“I think in the end, it will all work out,” he said. “Everyone needs to take a timeout. If we don’t have a book sale once, it’s not the end of the world.”

Dobrzynski and her board have not yet decided whether the Friends spring sale will be held, waiting first to see whether the in-house sales continue to be successful.

She said the directors are hopeful the Friends can come up with other ways to raise money and support the library.

Dobrzynski conceded the two groups are not working well together, and said the relationship could improve if the Friends had a better understanding of their role.

“If they have a willingness to work for us and understand their role as supporters and advocates, our role as policy setters who set policy and strategic direction,’’ and library director Felicia Ote’s role to oversee operations, she said, things could move forward more productively.

Lucier said the Friends group simply wants the same type of relationship as supporters in other communities have with their libraries.

“As I said, we had just one request in fiscal year 2013 for over $4,000, and it was approved after we had a chance to review it and ask questions,” she said.

“We do have to do tax forms, and we’d like to go back and tell our donors what their goodwill bought.”

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@ gmail.com.
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