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Berkshire Athenaeum Plans to Use $350K Gift on Recruitment, Retention
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
01:42AM / Wednesday, September 08, 2021
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The trustees on Tuesday discussed the use of a $350,000 bequest left to the library.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire Athenaeum is looking to use a $350,000 bequest from Pittsfield residents Fay and Rodman Henry to address challenges with recruitment and retention.

Director Alex Reczkowski told the Board of Library Trustees on Tuesday that the unexpected gift will likely be used for professional development and reimbursements for areas such as education, technology, and relocating.

"In terms of spending this I saw it as an unexpected gift and I saw, one of the bigger challenges that we faced is recruitment and retention, this, of course, is not unique to us," he said.

"So that was primarily my suggestion that with an unexpected gift like this, we consider how we could leverage that to address this challenge are facing."

Fay J. Henry and her brother, Rodman R. Henry, were fifth-generation city residents who vowed to support the community with their life savings. She passed away in 2019 while he passed away in 2011.

In their will, they bequeathed funding to a variety of nonprofit organizations in Berkshire County, and about $350,000 of that went to the Berkshire Athenaeum.

At their previous meeting, the trustees suggested that Reczkowski solicit input from staff. He said a reimbursement for moving to the area to work at the library was one suggestion.

"I did speak to staff and a number of staff mentioned that the support for professional development and for education reimbursement were important factors for them, that that newer education reimbursement was was a major factor," he said.

"As well as the newly hired staff did talk about the value and the benefit of the moving allowance that that made moving more possible or feasible or reasonable since moving here from a distance for two of them was was a meaningful cost."

Staff also suggested using the funds as a cultural allowance to participate in local organizations or events, an annual tech reimbursement for expenses like home internet, an informed citizens benefit to reimburse the cost of a local newspaper and a reimbursement for community-shared agriculture farm shares.

Board member Pam Knisley asked why these funds are not being put in a restricted account and are proposed to be spent right away. Reczkowski explained that the gift was not restricted and that the unexpected nature of the funds makes them fit for addressing issues within the organization.

"I would say that the gift was not restricted, it didn't come from the estate with any restrictions on spending, so I don't think that we had an interest in adding restrictions specifically to that," he said.

"So that falls into our investment strategy for that unrestricted amount, so that we could spend both principal and earnings, our restrictions are basically about preserving the principal."

Though professional development opportunities have been limited because of the pandemic, Reczkowski said that staff has still had the ability to participate in some online workshops and conferences.

In the near future, he sees conferences remaining hybrid, such as a Public Library Association conference in March.

President Kathy Amuso said she is interested in looking at more reimbursements for the home in relation to remote working. She asked if Reczkowski could gather information about the monthly costs of staff home technology accommodations and if there are any learning opportunities in the next six months that are sparking interest.

In other news, the library will likely name its annual spelling bee after Pittsfield Gazette Founder Jonathan Levine, who died of cancer in June.

Reczkowski said he has been in touch with Levine's family about how to honor him in an event that he ran. On Tuesday, the trustees voted to continue pursuing that discussion.

"In speaking with Jonathan's family about how to honor him, really make sure that we keep a lasting, good lasting memory of some of the difference he made in the community, we talked about naming the spelling bee in his honor," he reported.

"And the family is prepared to make a gift to help support the spelling bee going forward so we can make sure that that it is always supported and can always exist."

The School Department and the library are committed to continuing the event and have talked about making it so that students can participate in higher levels on the spelling bee.

"For the gift to generate the kind of funding that would be necessary to cover the anticipated spelling bee annual costs, that kind of investment will align more closely with our unrestricted investment strategy," Reczkowski added.

"And so with the desire to continually perpetuate the spelling bee and be able to draw off of it, it would be my recommendation that we consider that the family is willing to, to work with us to find the level of support that would that would work in that in that manner with the requests that we do continue to use Jonathan's name in the spelling bee and that we annually invite his heirs, his family to the spelling bee and or share the press releases with them so that they can keep up with that great story and how he's continued to be remembered."

The trustees also discussed masking in the library. They agreed on posting a sign that suggests mask-wearing but does not mandate it such as "we appreciate you wearing your mask."

The library has a masking requirement in the children's section but Reczkowski said the city’s metrics going into the red zone for incidence rate would trigger a mandate for the entire building.

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