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Victor Post
  • GUEST ESSAY: History should not be for sale

  • It is a travesty that Historic Palmyra cannot convince the Palmyra Community Library to join forces to protect the history given to our community from our ancestors.

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  • Historic Palmyra’s objective is to protect all materials donated to the Palmyra Historical Society for its museum once located in rooms at the Kings’ Daughters’ Free Library, listed in the historic society’s inventory book from 1936 to 1965 and museum inventory of 1952. Our board has researched all evidence available regarding both sides of this issue. Historic Palmyra is the only holder of any evidence regarding this issue. Sadly, Historic Palmyra finds it necessary to protect over 50 books from being sold or donated out of the community by the Palmyra Community Library.
    In 1934, a letter was received from the president of the Palmyra Kings Daughter’s Free Library offering the Palmyra Historic Society rooms to accept additional donations, display, and house its collection of books and artifacts, which it did for 42 years. Board minutes of June 15, 1976, from Historic Palmyra noted receiving a letter from the Palmyra Kings Daughter’s Library Board President Betty Alderman asking that “Historic Palmyra take ownership of all museum paraphernalia housed in the library building, emptying lower rooms before July 31, 1976.” “The need for an inventory was discussed, first to determine the value of the articles and second what belongs to the museum.” “The library wishes to keep the Historical Books and files of papers.” “Anything not belonging to the museum and not of value to the library, we (library) would like to put in a sale during Canaltown Days.” “After discussion on the legality of moving the collection out of the library, it was decided that each board would consult their own attorney to determine correct procedure and to get written statement from attorneys before we move things out.” (No legal agreements were done.) “Mrs. Agnes McLouth Griffith gave the library board a vote of thanks for harboring this collection all these years. She suggested that in the letter of acceptance from the Historical Society, it be stated that the museum collection will be housed by Historic Palmyra in trust for the people of Palmyra.”
    In spring of 2009, library president, J. Voss, approached the Historic Palmyra chairperson Irene Unterborn in passing, noting the library has some books that belong to Historic Palmyra; the library director then called requesting information on the inventories and list of items still housed at the library belonging to Historic Palmyra. The inventories were furnished dated 1952 and 1976.
    Our first meeting with the library February 2010, we proposed return of all books, library suggested possible loan to display at the museum. A unanimously approved library board motion, Oct. 15, 2009, stated any books that did not meet the mission statement of the library, were duplicates, and any the library was unable to display or preserve would be sold or donated. Upon discovering this motion, we felt that we had no option but to insist on total or shared ownership of the books to prevent any sale of the Historic Palmyra collection, saving it in the spirit given by the donors for the people of Palmyra. A FOIL (Freedom of Information) was requested for the library’s appraisal and prices.
    Page 2 of 2 - Contrary to Mrs. Voss’ statement about insurance purposes, the library’s lawyer’s response was, and we quote: “To assist it in negotiation with parties interested in purchasing the appraised property, because revealing such information would have hindered the governmental entity’s ability to obtain a fair price through competitive negotiations.” “In this case, the library is considering making some of the books covered by the appraisal available for sale. The release of Ms. Haswell’s evaluation/appraisal would impede the library’s ability to achieve an optimum return.” These are the library’s words, not ours. We then presented more evidence at a meeting of the library board early in 2010 with no response from the library board at the meeting or after. There have been no proposals by the library; and the only letters we have received were emphasizing the point that Historic Palmyra had not furnished enough evidence to prove it is the Palmyra Historical Society. The library legal council at Feb. 16, 2012, was quite definite and specific that the library board was not responsible to the community, only the library and the library board. The sale of these books seems to be foremost in the mind of the library board and although they say “not at this time,” the evidence is clear.
    It is a travesty that Historic Palmyra cannot convince the Palmyra Community Library to join forces to protect the history given to our community from our ancestors. History should not be for sale. Historic Palmyra feels it is a matter of moral and ethical responsibility to insure that all of these books are kept and cared for in perpetuity in Palmyra. This is our only agenda because it is unquestionably the right thing to do.
    We invite everyone to come to the Palmyra Historical Museum to see and discuss the documentation. We are at 132 Market Street, Palmyra, Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and welcome discussion and sharing of this information. Also you may call and discuss this (315) 597-6981.
    Joan Shaffer is chairperson of Historic Palmyra’s Board of Trustees.

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