Philly’s Free Library fired Author Event staff before they could quit

In a confusing couple of days, a breakdown inside the Free Library led to opposing postings about the future of the Author Event series.

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Free Library of Philadelphia Parkway Central Branch, 1901 Vine St.

Free Library of Philadelphia Parkway Central Branch, 1901 Vine St. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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On Monday, four Free Library of Philadelphia staff members who run the renowned Author Events programs collectively submitted a one-month notice of their resignations. They planned to do their jobs until the end of June.

A few hours later, they were fired.

They say their termination happened so quickly and completely they had assumed future Author Events programs were canceled, and said so on social media.

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“On the afternoon of the 3rd, while still performing our jobs, we discovered that we had been locked out of our work emails and were denied access to the building, thereby making it impossible for us to effectively manage these programs,” read a statement issued by Andy Kahan, Laura Kovacs, Jason Freeman and Nell Mittelstead.

“We sent the notice of canceled events in the midst of that uncertainty,” they said.

But the Author Events program was not canceled, according to a statement from The Free Library Foundation, which said the previous social media posts were “unauthorized.”

“The departure of the Author Event series staff was unfortunate,” read a statement by Free Library Foundation board chair Jeffry Benoliel. “Based on prior conversations there was a fundamental disagreement on the strategic direction chosen by the Board for the Foundation.”

The terminated staff members did not field questions about the disagreement but confirmed in their statement that the friction between them and the foundation had been ongoing.

“We had discussed our concerns with the Free Library and foundation leadership on numerous occasions,” they said.

Sources inside the library staff say there was a culture of disrespect from leadership, describing it as “cruel.”

Although locked out of the building and company emails, one former staff member was able to access Constant Contact, a marketing platform for sending messages to subscribers. Mittlestead, the Teen Author Series coordinator, explained to patrons the situation and urged them to stay involved with the Author Event program.

“While I’m sure they will hire someone competent for this position to run this amazing program, they will not have the support of coworkers and [a] huge wealth of institutional knowledge that would allow them to easily slip into the role,” Mittelstead wrote.

The departed staff have the support of visiting writers, including bestselling novelist Jennifer Weiner, who has been featured in the Author Event series at least a dozen times.

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“They are some of the best in the business,” Weiner wrote in a Facebook post lauding the staff after they were fired. “Their events ran flawlessly, from marketing and publicity and social media to logistics…but more importantly they were FUN.”

The Free Library Foundation board stated its support of its leader, Monique Moore Pryor, hired less than a year ago as its first executive director, and its commitment to continuing the Author Events series.

“We will restaff and continue to bring to the community noted authors and programs,” Benoliel said in a statement.

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