Going Coverless: Library Fundraises With 'Tastefully' Nude Local Authors
As financial need, demographics and the climate all change, Vermont libraries have to get creative to remain viable. Among these efforts: a fundraising calendar featuring local authors photographed "in various states of tasteful and artistically rendered implied nudity."
On a Sunday afternoon in the spring, after regular hours at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier, Thomas Greene showed up, met with photographer Catherine Aranda-Learned, and took his clothes off.
In front of bright lights and Aranda-Learned’s camera, Greene, a local author and the founding president of Vermont College of Fine Arts, struck his pose: cross-legged in a leather chair next to a side table stacked with his six novels, a hand on his bearded chin, looking up from the newspaper strategically placed in his lap.
Greene said the photoshoot took about an hour, and while the library windows were all blocked out, the front door was not. He could see people dropping books through the return slot, and, presumably, they could also see him.
"I'm still wondering what those people were thinking," Greene said.
Those people may be a little less perplexed now that the "Vermont Writers Uncovered" 2020 wall calendar, including Greene’s "October 2020" page, is available. The calendar, made by Varnum Memorial Library in Jeffersonville, is selling for $20 and features 13 Vermont authors and poets in various states of undress.
The idea originated with Karen Smith, a Varnum Memorial Library trustee.
"We’re kind of hoping it’s a calendar that will appeal to people who love libraries, people who love Vermont authors, people who love reading, people who love nice photography … and that it might have a broader appeal than just the people who come to our library," Smith said.
She made sure to add that "nothing essential is exposed."
Aranda-Learned, the photographer, said some of the writers were more comfortable in their natural state than others. A few, she said, "had no problem — not strutting around — but walking around."
One of the less forthcoming participants, a Jeffersonville-area poet who goes by LN, said she agreed to take part in the project because she trusted Aranda-Learned’s vision. On her "April 2020" page, LN wears a flower crown, a black choker and nothing else while standing behind some milkweed. A line of her poetry is written along her collarbone.
"Writers are very private and kind of solitary creatures, and we also bare ourselves on the page," LN said. "This is a really fun way to see us baring ourselves in a different way, in all of our imperfections."
While a calendar featuring all-but-naked people may be rather unique for a library fundraiser, the fundraising itself is not.
Because Varnum Memorial Library is an incorporated library — it’s run by a nonprofit — it must make up the 20 percent of its operating budget Jeffersonville does not provide. And the libraries that are run by municipalities and receive 100 percent of their budget from taxpayers still have to fundraise, too.
"Every library raises money," said Amy Olsen, president of the Vermont Library Association and library director of the Lanpher Memorial Library in Hyde Park. Each Town Meeting day, she said the Lanpher Memorial Library trustees are "very respectful of the Hyde Park taxpayers" and try to keep budget increases as small as possible year after year.
She added this is in part because the library is one of those "beloved institutions" that can ask for donations for, say, air conditioning, when other municipal departments can’t.
"It does go back to the idea, for better or worse, libraries are a charity … and a town office just isn’t," Olsen said. "I guess it’s a question of, do you see the library as a nicety, or a necessity?"
Financial security is just one of the pressures facing Vermont’s 188 libraries. Jason Broughton, the state librarian, said there are other threats to their sustainability, such as digital platforms limiting access to products like ebooks and audiobooks and building damage resulting from climate change.
The Vermont Library Association recently wrote a public letter criticizing the publisher Macmillan’s decision to allow libraries to purchase only one copy of a newly released ebook, with additional copies embargoed for another eight weeks.
As for climate change, Broughton said it was among the "forward thinking topics that [libraries] need to consider."
"If one believes it or not, climate change, that has a huge impact," he said. "A lot of the towns and villages and parishes and cities are near waterways. Well, if things change, and the library for example is only a few feet from the local stream or river, that could project a very interesting situation down the road."
In the meantime, Vermont’s libraries are responding to people dealing with addiction and the state's graying population and the associated services needed.
Broughton said he knows of libraries that have trained staff to administer Narcan, the overdose-reversal drug, and social services are increasingly offered, too.
"You have communities looking to the library to see if it will be open up longer, or earlier, before and after school," Broughton said.
In Hardwick, the Jeudevine Memorial Library is looking to better engage its older patrons.
Library director Lisa Sammet said in the past, the biggest demand at the library was for computers and help filing unemployment forms. Nowadays, Sammet and the library’s trustees are trying to raise money to build an addition to not only expand on the library’s 900 square feet, but to provide more accessibility.
"Somebody in a walker can get into the building, but it’s a trial," she said.
The 4,000 square foot addition will cost $1.69 million, Sammet said, and thanks in large part to two sizeable sums left by deceased donors, the library already has $720,000.
The rest, she added, will hopefully be raised through grants, a bond vote by the town, and, perhaps most delightfully, a fundraiser in which people can pay a dollar to vote on which town official gets to kiss a pig.