New head of public library service got rid of 'hundreds' of books at Kings Landing library
Kevin Cormier removed significant books worth $60K, says former employee who found some at Value Village
The new head of the New Brunswick Public Library Service got rid of a significant collection of books at the Kings Landing library when he was in charge of the historical settlement, according to a former employee.
Darrell Butler helped build up the Kings Landing library over more than 40 years as the chief curator and manager of heritage resources.
The books dealt with topics such as the history of agriculture, wagons, furniture and ceramics, and staff used them for research and reference, said Butler.
"The books were very specialized and, well really, they were collectors' items, some of them individually worth over $100," he said.
But in 2016, when Kevin Cormier was the CEO of Kings Landing, Butler discovered some of the books for sale at Value Village in Fredericton.
"I walked in one day and said, 'Gee that looks like a book that I donated to Kings Landing.' And I opened it up and there was my name inside the book, so I knew it was the book that I had donated."
He also found some books that had been donated to Kings Landing by a prominent citizen in memory of her mother, he said.
Butler estimates "hundreds" of books worth "well over $50,000-$60,000" were lost.
"I was quite concerned about it and I wrote to the chairman of the board of directors of Kings Landing," said Butler, who was on extended leave at the time because of a heart condition.
"Unfortunately I never heard back from them," Butler added. "But three days later Kevin Cormier called me and demanded I return my BlackBerry and my computer to Kings Landing."
Cormier has not responded to requests for interviews.
Last week, he was named executive director of the province's 64 public libraries. It's a contentious appointment given his apparent lack of library training or experience.
The current CEO of Kings Landing, Mary Baruth, confirmed in an emailed statement that "several years ago, senior management" directed the collections manager to review the library's books, magazines, periodicals and journals "for their relevance to the collection."
'Extraneous' books donated
"Sources that contained information related to the mandate, and that could be used as reference material, were kept for use in the reference library and/or collections centre," said Baruth.
Those deemed "extraneous" were boxed and donated to the Canadian Federation of University Women's annual book fair in Fredericton, she said.
"It is our understanding that some of these materials donated to the book sale may have eventually made their way to other used book retailers, charity and consignment shops."
Baruth could not explain why the collection was purged since she was not with Kings Landing at the time. But she did say, "It is not unusual for libraries and museums to periodically review reference materials as new editions and digitized versions become available and to discard or donate reference materials not related to their mandate to charitable causes so that others may benefit from their use."
She continued: "Kings Landing has an extensive primary archival and library collection that is the cornerstone of its history, research, exhibit and interpretation plan and it remains intact."
Butler disagrees. He contends only about one-third of the collection remains.
"It's tragic," he said. "It was a very good research library. It was specialized. We had journals and texts that you couldn't get anywhere else in New Brunswick."
He cites as an example being able to compare farm wagons in New Brunswick to those in England to see the cultural influences.
"Without those books, it's gone," said Butler. "You don't have it. And it's not [all] online, as people said to me at the time," If the information is online, he said, it doesn't go into the same level of detail as some of the publications.
If the Kings Landing library couldn't keep all of the books for some reason, Butler questions why they weren't instead donated to the New Brunswick Museum or the New Brunswick Public Library Service.
"I guess what I'm saying is that perhaps Kevin wasn't quite as aware of the value of the research library at Kings Landing as one would expect him to be if he had a strong history and museum background."
Retired over difference of views
Butler said he retired because he didn't agree with some of the other controversial changes Cormier was making, which included cutting back on re-enactments and replacing them with static exhibits.
"I just said I couldn't be associated with it because I was the person … that was responsible for the historical accuracy of Kings Landing and the approach he was using was contrary to everything that I knew about historical settlements and how they should operate," said Butler.
Last March, Cormier announced plans to resume using costumed characters in the three old houses.
Although Cormier didn't have experience in museums, he did do research, attend conferences and get up to speed "as best he could" when he worked at Kings Landing, said Butler.
But "his vision for Kings Landing was unorthodox," focused more on it being a tourist attraction than a place to teach people about New Brunswick history, he said.
Despite their differences, Butler said Cormier has people skills and is an innovative thinker.