Acrimony at the Athenaeum

New director has created a noticeable air of negativity

I was shocked and saddened to learn the details of upheaval at the Boston Athenaeum under the new director (“The storm after the quiet,” Page A1, Feb. 25). My husband and I are longtime members of this venerable institution, and for quite some time I have felt that something was a bit off in the atmosphere of the Athenaeum. Now I know what that something is: the negativity brought about by the despicable manner in which longtime employees and recognized experts in their respective fields have been treated. Shame on the director and the board for allowing this to happen.

Aside from their expertise, the individuals who recently departed were valued for their institutional memory and for how their presence made the Athenaeum welcoming to visitors and members alike.

It seems that the board should reexamine its wisdom in the hiring of the current director. She does not seem to be a good fit. It should be up to the board to remedy this grievous mistake before the Athenaeum becomes just another library, rather than the cherished jewel that it is and deserves to remain.

Lynne Byall Benson


One sad change stands out: the treatment of the security guards


As a longtime Boston Athenaeum member, I have witnessed the more visible recent institutional changes without knowing of the turmoil behind the scenes. However, the “mismanagement of the institution’s most valuable resource — its human one,” as one former curator put it, is very much felt by patrons like me.

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The most obvious — daily — example: For years the security guards commanded a front desk in the building’s lobby, where they signed in members and guests and ensured that visitors checked oversize bags. For regulars like me, this daily exchange was a personal one, acknowledging that both the guard and the patron were human beings who recognized each other and even got to know one another.

In the building’s new incarnation, the guard’s desk and chair have been removed; members check in at another station while the guard is made to stand beside the exit door, holding a wand or stick to poke inside people’s bags as they leave.

While this bag check may be necessary, seeing a well-liked and respected employee made to stand for hours, waiting to perform this dehumanizing duty, is a small daily sadness that seems to epitomize the tonal shift at the Athenaeum. I’m not the only member who feels this change in attitude and respect for the staff.

I researched and wrote much of my first novel at the Athenaeum; I’m grateful for the excellent staff, beautiful building, books and artwork, and fellow regulars working away at their projects. I hope the current problems will be remedied. But when my membership lapsed in January, I did not renew.

Daphne Kalotay