Debuting the library documentary

The student producers of the documentary react to audience questions at Herrick Auditorium.

 On Wednesday, April 24, five VTSU-Castleton filmmakers proudly screened “Error 404: Book Not Found,” a documentary about the rescinded all-digital library decision last February, to a maxed-out audience in Herrick Auditorium. 

The project began in Communications professor Sam Davis-Boyd’s Documentary Filmmaking class – led by Lily Doton, Jacob Gonzalez, Wm. Smith, Maddie Lindgren and Jacob Ruben – soon after Vermont State Colleges leadership announced a plan for the libraries to go “all-digital.” The plan entailed the ridding of physical books, creating a university-wide online library, repurposing library spaces and laying off library staff. 

“It brought back a lot of feelings. I was ripped after 25 years working here,” said Billie Neathawk, one of the five librarians at Castleton’s Calvin Coolidge Library who lost their jobs.

After significant backlash from the campuses, the decision was rescinded in late April, but not without its lasting effect of decreased trust in administration. 

“To me, this is so much larger than the libraries,” said VSCS Chancellor Beth Mauch, who attended the screening. “The striking part to me was everyone saying, ‘you didn’t involve us’ and ‘what were you thinking?’…If we don’t ensure we are having genuine conversations, something like this will happen again.”

The documentary itself brilliantly compiled interviews with faculty, staff, and students. It also included footage from the library class walk out and library sit-in, statements made at the Casella Theater Town Hall, and creative decisions such as voiceovers of school-wide administrative emails and B-roll of students walking across campus. 

“My favorite part was the voiceover,” said Natural Sciences professor Preston Garcia. It really sent home when you said, ‘Best wishes,’ referring to Doton’s cheery, yet nonchalant tone.

“You see less and less students as the B-roll goes on,” noticed student Colby Tucker during the question-and-answer to follow the screening, to which Wm. Smith explained that it “was an aesthetic vision to show people caring less about it moving forward.” 

One shocking part of the film comes from the Casella Town Hall, in which nearly a hundred Castleton members lined up to plead their case for the library; comprising mostly productive arguments, but one racist comment that jumped out to those present and watching the film. 

Professor Sam Davis-Boyd, who taught the Documentary Workshop class that created the library documentary, talks to audience members after the film.

“Learn English!” shouted someone anonymously to former President Parwinder Grewal.

“I was like ‘No! That didn’t happen!’ said Wm. Smith. “We’re supposedly in a post racial society. We’re not there. It tells a larger story.” 

The documentary concluded by saying Parwinder Grewel was scapegoated despite being “one of few people in administration who took the time to listen,” said Castleton’s NAACP Vice President Lili Farrell. She also talked about how the survey used to defend the decision included a mere fraction of the VTSU population. 

From film fanatics to first timers, each student took away something away from the experience. For Doton, who had previously been interested in shorter-length film, it “solidified her interest in longer form.” For Jacob Ruben, it allowed him to indulge in getting drone footage. Maddie Lindgren, who “didn’t initially want to do film,” now considers a future in the craft. 

Jacob Gonzalez shared that he is simply “deeply in love with creating content” and thanked Davis-Boyd for her mentorship. 

“Sam has impacted our academic development and lives in general…We wouldn’t be here without her,” said Gonzalez. 

“I am so incredibly proud of the students who worked on this project,” said Davis-Boyd. “It was very emotional getting to see everybody’s reactions and how much they enjoyed the film. And I think some people are frustrated again. It’s bringing everything back to the forefront, and the story isn’t necessarily finished.” 

The filmmakers also took “Error 404: Books Not Found” on the road to VTSU-Johnson campus on May 8 and are on the hunt for film festivals! They encourage all to follow their Youtube, Facebook and Instagram platforms @VTSUCastletonMediaandCommunicationsDepartment to stay up updated on this and all other projects!

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