Patrons’ scent forces librarians to move

HYDE SQ.—A strong fragrance worn by Connolly Branch Library patrons triggered health issues for two librarians who were forced to temporarily transfer elsewhere, and the library’s Friends group is raising a stink about it.

The Friends group wants longtime librarians Jane Bickford and Amy Manson back and a fragrance-free policy to keep them there. The Boston Public Library (BPL) says customer scents won’t be restricted, but that negotiations are under way to get the librarians back within two weeks.

Christine Schonhart, the BPL’s director of branch libraries and a JP resident, declined to comment on the record about the exact nature of the fragrance complaint, citing employee confidentiality. Bickford and Manson both declined to comment, citing the BPL’s ban on employees speaking to the press.

“It’s all a little fuzzy, but basically it has to do with two patrons wearing a scent that affects Jane and Amy and makes it difficult for them to breathe,” said Fran Streeter, co-chair of the Friends of the Connolly Branch Library, in an email to the Gazette.

BPL responded to the librarians’ complaints in January by temporarily moving them to other branches. The Friends group has sent letters to the BPL and some Boston city councilors demanding the return of the librarians, who have served there for over a decade. Other librarians have been moved in to fully staff the 433 Centre St. library. But, the Friends group said in one letter, the moves mean that “continuity of public service is severely disrupted.”

“We are working with the staff on a resolution of this,” Schonhart said, adding that BPL “expect[s] to have them back in two weeks.” She also said that Bickford and Manson have returned briefly to help coordinate special events, including an upcoming slate of Women’s History Month programs.

Streeter said that the BPL should have spoken with the patrons about the scent instead of transferring the librarians.

“We don’t have a fragrance-free policy,” Schonhart said. “We don’t have that and don’t plan to. All of our buildings are free and open to all.”

The librarians’ union, the BPL Professional Staff Association, could not be reached for immediate comment.

Some clerical workers at the Connolly Branch “have been affected” by the scent as well, but have not left the building, according to Nancy McGovern, a spokesperson for the AFSCME union that represents them.

Bickford and Manson previously were transferred temporarily over dust- and fume-related health concerns several years ago, when the library stayed open during renovations.

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