Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Prelude to Tonight's Board of Trustees Meeting

Tonight's meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Lewis Auditorium, and as we have for the past four months, we'll be sharing the meeting via a video livestream and through Twitter (you can view the feed on this blog's front page).

The agenda and documents are available online, but in short, the Trustees will be voting on collection policy documents and discussing more about the search for a new executive director (you'll find a draft of the job description at that last link).

In the Department Reports, we learned from Interim Head of Adult Services Mary Towner that the Library sent approximately 8,566 books to Better World Books early this summer. Of these, 2810 were added back to the collection and a nearly equivalent number were officially weeded. Although the bulk of the art and religion collections are now intact, Towner notes that approximately 3,000 volumes were not returned or are otherwise unaccounted for.

The community is still watching what goes on at the Library vigilantly. For instance, on a neighborhood association e-mail list last week, a resident posted about what seemed to be another weeding project. Towner posted a thoughtful blog entry discussing what was really happening - students from GSLIS were undertaking a preliminary evaluation of a portion of the collection - and that librarians from adult services were supervising.

Stay tuned for updates, but we here at Reclaiming Our Library hope to see many local residents come to tonight's meeting (and next month's meeting and the one after that...)

As a parting note, may we all have as much desire to be involved in our communities as this 12-year old Dallas boy, profiled recently in the Washington Post blog. Take a watch!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Hunt for a New Director

At the September 10 meeting, the Trustees announced that Bob Burger - a retired University of Illinois librarian - would helm the search committee for the Urbana Free Library's new executive director and that the process would proceed, as President Scherer noted, with "all due haste."

Following that announcement, a lively and chaotic discussion ensued in which the Trustees wrangled with logistics: who would appoint the other members of the committee? to whom is the search committee accountable? what will the committee use as criteria for evaluating candidates? The answers to most of those questions seemed to reside in the person of Bob Burger. It is he, the Trustees concluded, who will appoint the committee, determine its direction, and develop evaluative criteria.

What seemed most clear from this discussion is that the Trustees don't understand the search process.

In looking back at the Board minutes from the last director search in 2006, the process worked much differently.

For instance, here's what the minutes from May 2006 state,
Kate McDowell passed out for review a new time line for hiring a new Executive Director. She also passed out the job description and the job advertisement and revised them on her laptop computer as Board members and staff made suggestions. The Board discussed a number of points, including the best way to present the salary range, whether specific details should be in the job description or a job contract, and whether specific job expectations and experiences should be required or preferred.  
The Board also discussed where and when to advertise, who should be on the search committee and advisory committee, and who should meet the top candidates. 
It was moved by Charlie Smyth, seconded by William Golden, and passed unanimously that Jane Williams and Kate McDowell co-chair the search committee. The Board will discuss at the next meeting who else should be a part of the search committee. Kate mentioned that the search committee will have two main tasks, the initial screening of candidates, followed by selecting and interviewing candidates to be interviewed in Urbana.
In this scenario - even before a committee was appointed - there was a sense of process and a concrete job description.

Here's a little more from August 2006.
Kate McDowell presented several items to the Board for their consideration.
It was moved by Jane Williams, seconded by Charlie Smyth, and passed unanimously that the Director Interview Template be approved as presented.  
It was moved by Charlie Smyth, seconded by Barbara Gillespie, and passed unanimously that the Director Hiring Process Timeline be approved as modified.

It was moved by Charlie Smyth, seconded by Jane Williams, and passed unanimously that the Search Committee should consist of Kate McDowell, James Quisenberry, Jane Williams, one other Board member, a member of the staff, and a member from the Foundation. The Search Committee will screen applications and conduct the phone interviews. The whole Board will take part in the interviews which involve bringing in candidates. It is anticipated that six to seven people will be interviewed by phone, and the top two or three candidates will be interviewed in person.  
It was moved by Charlie Smyth, seconded by Chris Scherer, and passed unanimously that the letter asking for staff input be sent out to staff as modified. 
We learn, thus, that the composition of the search committee - determined by the Board - and that there was an interview template.

Several of the current Trustees (Mel Farrell, Jane Williams, Chris Scherer) were also Trustees in 2006, so surely there is some institutional memory that can serve as a starting point. For whatever reason, it was Farrell who seemed insistent on giving power to Burger.

I'm certain more will be revealed in the next few weeks, but at the moment I am concerned that the Trustees are abdicating their responsibilities by investing an individual external to the Board with so much authority. Certainly I hope that there will be opportunities for people outside of the Library's administration who can provide input on hiring, but it would be unfortunate if in their haste to hire a new director, the Trustees don't proceed with purpose and direction.

Notes from Trustees Meeting (10 September)

Last night's meeting was relatively brief - a little less than an hour - but it was packed with information. In fact, it seemed the public learned more from the trustees and staff at Urbana Free Library about the ongoing issues related to #bookgate in last night's meeting than in any other forum to date.

Notably the trustees described the terms negotiated for former director Lissak's terminal contract and some general details about how the search for a new permanent director will proceed.

We learned too from acting head of adult services Mary Towner that 297 boxes of books were probably shipped to Better World Books (BWB) during June. Towner spent 45 minutes on the phone with BWB, but that would have been unnecessary if the employee who has access to the Library's BWB account would simply provide access to it. So it seems that among the ranks of the Library's staff, partisanship and allegiances continue to hold sway.

Another takeaway from the meeting is that the trustees might need refresher courses in Robert's Rules of Order, their own by-laws, and the Illinois Open Meetings Act. Much of the confusion focused on two issues: how to change the meeting time for the regular board meetings and on the chain of command for the search committee (e.g. who chooses who serves on it - the appointed head of the committee or the Trustees).

You can read a brief article about the meeting in the News-Gazette, but be sure to check out some notes provided by Kathryn La Barre who attended the meeting. There is also a recording available of the meeting courtesy of JP Goguen, but the sound quality is hit and miss.

Monday, September 9, 2013

With Friends Like These...

Allow me to call your attention to a brief announcement in the September 2013 Director's Report.
"The August 22-26 book sale raised $7,147. The sale included items from the library collection from the Better World Books shipment that were not returned to the collection after careful re-evaluation by the Adult Services librarians. According to the Friends, of the 145 boxes of books offered to the Friends for the sale, a total of three boxes of books were selected by the public."
Dear Reader, I attended this book sale on Saturday, August 24. Full disclosure: I bought a handful of books that had been returned from Better World Books and not added back to the collection. 

Most of the books that filled the Lewis Auditorium were donations, not discarded library books. The paperback mystery selections—no library copies among them—were lovingly attended and groomed by a circulating clutch of Friends. The romance and fantasy paperbacks were also tenderly tended. 

The Library's former books? The ones at the heart of #bookgate? They were partitioned off in two small rooms, still in boxes, difficult to browse. A few other boxes, even more jumbled, were shoved into a corner of the large room. There were signs pointing the curious to "Former Library Books."

I didn't count the boxes - adorned with the Better World Books logos on their sides - but I would be surprised if there were more than 50 available all told. 

Where were the other 100 boxes? I have no idea. Some were stacked up in the back hallway. A Reclaiming traveler said when s/he inquired about them, s/he was told the boxes contained "crap fiction" that no one would want.

Perhaps, just maybe, the Friends could have sold more than 3 boxes of the returned books if they lovingly groomed and curated even a small portion of them in the same way they did the rows of James Patterson, Sue Grafton, and Lillian Braun.

Of course, the Friends didn't want any of the returned library books to sell, period. As one of the Friends stated during public comment at the June 19 Special Meeting of the Library's Board (you can listen at about 01:26:00 mark in this recording), no one wants to buy old library books anyway. We were told to trust the Friends, that they know better than even the librarians what the community wants to read.

With Friends like these, who needs enemies?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Immaterial? Inconceivable!!

Maybe-current Executive Director Deb Lissak, Maybe-interim Executive Director Kathy Wicks, and Trustee Mel Farrel were not in attendance last night. Lissak's attorney was nowhere in evidence. The climate in the packed Sattherthewaite conference room verged into the intemperate zone as tempers ran hot, as did the temperature.

Chris Scherer opened the meeting by advising us that public comment would be limited as a closed session would commence at 7pm in order for the Board to have a phone conference with their attorney "on personnel." He was clearly agitated and emphatic in advising the assembled that the Board had no announcements for us. We were informed that after the closed session we could expect no further announcements. We were advised to keep our comments brief.

Mark Netter injected a note of calm following these opening remarks with his statement here: http://reclaimingourlibrary.blogspot.com/2013/08/late-august-updates.html

After closed session the Board did have one announcement - they will convene a special meeting on September 4, at 7 p.m. in the UFL auditorium.

First the hopeful signs:

The meeting was livestreamed and is archived here:

Yesterday and today news about #bookgate reappeared on the radio (WILL) with small soundbites sprinkled liberally throughout the programming. Here is one such piece: http://will.illinois.edu/news/story/lissak-still-working-at-urbana-library-following-weeding-scandal

The News Gazette published a credible overview here: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2013-08-27/confusing-situation-arises-2-directors-payroll.html

I appreciate the extremity of the situation which the Board of Trustees now faces and I am sympathetic about the pressures they face. It would seem that they can't answer many of our questions because concerns about of legal liability, and because much remains unresolved. We verified the following:

  1. There is no separation agreement.
  2. Lissak has not resigned.
  3. Lissak still reports to work and it is unclear who is in charge of the library on a day to day basis and to whom staff should be reporting (according to statements made in the WILL piece above). 
  4. Negotiations are ongoing in an attempt to seek a separation agreement with Lissak.
  5. Last night seems to have been the Board's first opportunity to consult with an attorney.

Last night's meeting gave us a new word for our vocabulary: Immaterial. Chris Scherer, Board President, who appeared increasingly frustrated and angry as the evening unfolded repeatedly used this term to dismiss many of our questions.

Al Kagan led the public comment with observations about the 'two popes' problem facing the library as indicated by the WILL transcript of Scherer's comments which indicate that there are two acting directors (Lissak and Wicks). He stated that the director continues to demonstrate her incompetence by not removing herself from leadership of the library in a dignified way, and is prolonging harm to the library. He urged the Board to fire her due to her gross incompetence.

Carol Tilley brought copies of the Library Journal article here:
http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/08/opinion/michael-stephens/collection-bashing-trashing-office-hours/  She advised the trustees that the events at UFL are being watched by people in the US and Internationally as this is an issue affecting libraries everywhere.

JP Goguen thanked the trustees for opening up public comment. He noted that Lissak was given an opportunity for a graceful honorable exit, and expressed his appreciation for the upcoming consultation with an attorney. He addressed the civil service guidelines for termination as the tool that would allow them to be aggressive in pursuing her termination.

A dispute about Lissak's actual employment classification ensued as Scherer indicated that she is a civil service employee, and Becky Brown stated emphatically that she is not. Lissak is an exempt class employee of the City of Urbana, and she has a current contract for employment.

Kate McDowell then testified by stating her appreciation for the ability to comment and addressed the trustees requests for trust and faith "It is faith that brings us here, what we say may not indicate full trust. That is our job - we are asking you to represent us. I know we may not all agree. We show up because we care and because we have faith. When we speak please do not address our comments as silly." She asked for the trustees to foster respectful dialogue, and began to ask a series of questions which were interrupted by Scherer.

She asked if a paid separation agreement has been reached, if the director has resigned, who is the library director, what is the legal authority that makes this person director? Where is this contract? Why are we pursuing separation and not termination? What is the authority that grants the ability to pay two directors at once?

McDowell then suggested that the trustees consider more openness by soliciting public input on the appointment of and terms of the contract for the next director. She asked for clear answers in this very confusing situation. After being interrupted several times near the conclusion of her comments Scherer told her she was done talking and dismissed her from the podium.

Aimee Rickman stated her outrage about the inaction of the Board, how appalled she is by the squandering of public funds and by the fact that the pillaging of the library has not prompted more decisive action on the part of the trustees, despite repeated calls for action. She addressed the fact that the contract with Lissak was renewed - at which point she was interrupted by Scherer - who advised her that she did not know what she was talking about. Rickman countered by asking the Board to help us understand what is going on. At this point the trustees seemed to indicate that a contract was in place prior to their awareness of the issues at the library.

Rickman then stated her frustration about the lack of willingness to protect library workers by addressing the bullying. She asked the trustees what they were doing to protect staff, and highlighted the 'no time' / 'needing more time' disconnect. Recent events of the library unfolded quickly under the oversight of the Board. Now the Trustees continue to state that there is insufficient time to conduct a SWOT analysis, for example, prior to state reporting requirements. The Board continues to ask the public for more time, and yet the urgency of the situation intensifies in direct proportion to the lack of clear communication from the Board. Rickman then renewed her questions about how many books were removed.

In response - Scott Bennett, Trustee, advised us that the trustees are trying to proceed mindfully and not incur any further liability for the library. There is no separation agreement. There is an existing contract which must be honored.

We were advised by Chris Scherer that questions about the number of books that came back are immaterial. That the number of books that were sent out is immaterial. This speaker was advised her time for speaking was over.

Carol Tilley interjected that the trustees interactions by this point in the meeting were now contrary to the spirit of respect and open dialogue the group had repeatedly requested. Indeed, The plea for respect that Kate McDowell presented earlier seemed to create an equal yet decidedly opposite reaction.

Ashley Price took the podium next and asked about transparency for the strategic plan, and stated her concerns about the fact that most of the information was coming from rumors as no official communication was forthcoming from the board about the many extant questions the public continues to restate from meeting to meeting.

Chris Scherer stated emphatically that 'Rumors are a problem.'

Stuart Levy, speaking on behalf of an Urbana resident asked about the status of the search for a new director particularly with respect to this now unsettled situations with two acting directors. He asked for a public resolution as expeditiously as possible.

After roll call the Trustees convened in closed session.

This meeting unsettled everyone and left Board members and the public alike disappointed and frustrated. The complexity of the situation is now far more clear, as the path to resolution leads into a briar and bramble filled terrain. The concerns the public continues to state are not irrelevant, not unimportant, in other words not - as Scherer deemed them IMMATERIAL.

What we have here is a failure to communicate. I add one further plea to the trustees. We know there is much you can not tell us. Please tell us what you can and clearly define what you can't. If we have things wrong, please tell us. The rumors that have upset you will only grow in this vacuum.

We sincerely hope that Scherer's statement about the problematic nature of rumors does not bode ill for current employees who still have no protection in this rapidly evolving situation. We appreciate and respect your continuing efforts under unimaginably difficult circumstances. We look forward to a more respectful and open dialogue with you.

Statement from Mark Netter - member of the UFL Board of Trustees

August 27, 2013

Last night in a packed special session in the Satterthwaite meeting room, with eight of the trustees in attendance [Mel Farrel was absent], and with Becky Brown taking notes - I counted 25 people at the meeting, some were press members, most were citizens. After a brief statement by Chris Scherer - which I'll post about next - Mark Netter read the following comment as a response to a post on this blog earlier that day - Late August Updates http://reclaimingourlibrary.blogspot.com/

He provided us with the text of this comment and asked us to share it with you here:

Comments on August 27 2013 UFL Meeting

For the past two months UFL board members, UFL staff, and members of the community have come to understand that there were deep seated issues that must be addressed.

We have listened to the public, and have started the process of change. Some people believe that the board is moving too slowly, there may even be a few thinking otherwise.

Most of the board's meetings take place in public, and that is both the right thing to do as well as the law.

However, the main purpose of tonight's meeting is to have closed session discussions with our attorney and on personnel. That meeting is the board's first with our attorney and is scheduled for 7:00 pm.

Why didn't we find a bigger space? Because of the agenda, I really didn't think that a large number of people would attend just to watch us go into closed session and come back out later with no announcements. To hold this meeting in the Auditorium displaces another group that has a regularly scheduled claim to that space. Moving the board meeting to another facility and making the necessary arrangements seemed wasteful. If I was wrong, I am sorry.

We hope that the members of the public will understand the need for the board to conduct lawfully permitted closed sessions from time to time.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Late August Updates

Tonight (Tuesday), August 27, at 6:30 p.m., the Urbana Library Trustees will hold a special meeting in the Library's Satterthwaite Conference Room. The agenda is simply two items: public comment and closed session.

Many of us appreciate the opportunity the Trustees have afforded for additional public comment, but there are a few problems accompanying it as well. Let me outline two of them.

First, the meeting location holds only 14 people. The Trustees and staff who regularly attend the meetings will easily fill most of those spaces. How exactly can public comment occur effectively? The other two regular meeting spaces at the Library are booked for other events, but why not move the Trustees' meeting elsewhere such as the Urbana Civic Center or the City Building or, hell, even the quiet reading room on the Library's main floor?

Second, the trustees have continued in their silences. I realize that legal issues (the former? Executive Director has apparently hired an attorney to aid in negotiating the 'early separation' that was announced in July) preclude comment on some issues. Yet, the complete public silence suggests that the Trustees still lack any sense of urgency to meaningfully address issues related to governance, personnel administration, strategic planning, and more.

I am beginning to shift my views that the Trustees are acting from a position of benign incompetence to one of willful and hubristic obstructionism. Urbana Library Trustees, please prove me wrong. 

#Bookgate has also reached the pages of Library Journal. In his August column, Michael Stephens reminds the greater library community why #bookgate is not simply a local Urbana issue. You can read it here:  http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/08/opinion/michael-stephens/collection-bashing-trashing-office-hours/

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

One step forward, two steps back?

Last night’s UFL Board of Trustees meeting was lightly attended by about 30 people, including Lissak’s attorney. Confusion (for the third time in a row) about the start time of the meeting resulted in the loss of public comment for several who arrived at 7:30. Public comment ended by 7pm. I'd like to thank those who provided comment, including Kate McDowell, Laura Haber, Al Kagan, and Danielle Chynowith. This meeting provided some answers and resulted in more questions. I’ll call this a 'two steps forward one step back' outcome since I’m feeling charitable this morning.

Steps forward:
 The IMC livestreamed the meeting. UPTV recorded the proceedings. View them here: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/37270267 and here: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/37271369

An interim director was appointed effective immediately: Kathy Wicks – Lissak’s Associate Director for the past 4-5 years. Lissak remains on the payroll - as her contract was renewed on July 1, and her role at UFL is unclear. She was quite vocal at the meeting.

A national search will commence for the position of Executive Director, timeline to be announced. A working group consisting of Mark Netter and Beth Scheid will craft the search process.

The UFL Board announced a special meeting for Tuesday, August 27 at 6:30 in the UFL auditorium. correction from the UFL website: > Satterthwaite conference room on the ground floor. Under discussion may be the criteria for the search candidates, and the proposed search process among other items.

Of the 259 boxes returned by BWB only 40 remain to be evaluated. Adref staff have carefully (and I'd say heroically) reassessed the contents and 2074 books have been returned to the collection. The target completion date is one month from now. Return rate is approximately 50%, though the remaining boxes have subjects such as finance and health – which have higher weed rates due to temporality. Scherer estimates that at $12.50 valuation per book/ this means over $25,000 in resources have been restored to UFL shelves.

As part of the state library reporting process - Kathy Wicks recognizes the need to learn more about the UFL audience and how to reach them. The public has been directed to send ideas for how to do this to her. These ideas may be incorporated into an actual SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis – "at some point in the future".

The UFL grievance policy revision is in the hands of the city, which is overseeing the process. (according to Chris Scherer). 

Steps backward:
Confusion about the Board meeting start time (again!) – Listed as 7:30 on the library calendar (but corrected by the morning of the meeting), in the reminder email sent out by UFL and as 6:30 in the meeting agenda, and the flyer posted on the announcement board at UFL.

Scherer characterized role of comment on the strategic plan with what appears to be another retrenchment – "The strategic plan will be evaluated and the new director will have input." There was no indication if – or when – the public would be allowed to comment.

Mel Farrell is back from vacation with a new word she likes to use: ‘silly’
She did praise the staff, while reminding the audience “we don’t often have the luxury of hiring immediately” and we shouldn’t worry about this because our ‘eminent staff will carry on.’ Ostensibly we’ve all been worried about a decline in programs and services and we just don’t need to be! Aren’t we silly!

News Gazette coverage – which – again doesn’t quite get things right in ways that inaccurately color the news.

No one said that “many of the removed books have been returned to the stacks.” We were actually told – again – that the numbers are not available, though Mary Towner feels this may be possible once all of the boxes have been unpacked and assessed.

Towner didn’t say: “she believes the actual number of removed books may have been smaller than that [9,343 is the number stated in the article].” What she told us is that not all of the yellow highlighted books on the spreadsheet were removed because the weeding stopped prior to completion.

Continued vigilance is needed, and indeed appreciated by Chris Scherer - President of the Board of Trustees, though he repeatedly warned us not to push too hard - especially on timelines. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

JP Goguen looks back on #bookgate

JP Goguen, who helped bring the news of June's massive and misguided weeding project at Urbana Free Library to light, has written a summary of the past two month's events.

As we wait for a response from the Library's Board of Trustees to the open letter mailed to them this week, we hope you'll read JP's article and explore this blog to help catch up on what you missed and why it matters.

On the Library's site, you can also find results of a recent parking and transportation study (see Planning Studies) it commissioned.

Friday, July 26, 2013

An Open Letter to the Urbana Free Library Board of Trustees

To the Urbana Free Library Board of Trustees:

In early June members of the public learned of immense changes taking place at the Urbana Free Library. Since then hundreds of people have attended and spoken at Board meetings, signed petitions, contacted you personally, written public letters and comments, and otherwise shown concern for UFL.  We appreciate the Board’s promise of greater transparency and its pledge to listen to community concerns.

To that end, we would like to bring the following questions to the Board. These are not our only questions, but they are some of the most pressing ones and some we have been asking for nearly two months. As you work towards the best possible outcome for this beloved public institution and for the community as a whole, we hope and trust that you will respond to these questions quickly, thoroughly, and openly.

(1) How will the Board of Trustees address public concerns voiced at the June and July Board meetings?

(2) At its July 9 meeting, the Board announced it would pursue an early separation agreement with the current executive director. What is the timeline for hiring personnel — specifically an interim executive director, an executive director, and a director of adult services — at UFL?

(3) What criteria will be used for evaluating prospective candidates for the positions of interim executive director and executive director?

(4) As library staff have reported both publicly and in confidence that they were bullied and pressured by the Library’s executive director, what progress has been made towards updating the untenable, twenty-year old grievance process for staff?

Led by an outside consultant with little knowledge of our community, the Library created a strategic plan. Some of these planned changes — such as an effort to provide more community spaces — were made public through documents on the Library’s website after the controversy began.  Other significant changes  — such as a drastic reduction in the physical magazine collection — have only been addressed by library administrators.

(5) Are there plans for repurposing space? If so, what are they? Is there a long term strategy to increase the size of the building?

(6) What are short term plans for the following portions of the physical / print collection?
  • Periodicals: Will these be reduced in number during the next 12-24 months? If so, why? What is the basis for this decision?
  • A/V materials including CDs and DVDs: Some sections of this collection have already been significantly weeded; will this continue? Why?
  • Is the Library committed to maintaining strong, diverse nonfiction and fiction print collections?
  • What is the budget for ‘replenishing’ the collections with new items?
  • Will there be balanced growth of physical and digital items?

At the July 9 Board meeting, the community was told that the strategic planning process would not be reopened, but that the public would be allowed to provide comment for an ‘addendum’ to the plan. Not only is the role of this addendum unclear, it will be difficult for the public to give meaningful comments since details about implementation such as timing and logistics (such as implications for personnel and re-allocation of library resources) are not currently available to the public.

(7) What is the Board’s understanding of the scope and purpose of the strategic plan as it has been adopted?

  • What role will public comment play?  For instance, will the Board use public comment  to modify the existing (adopted) strategic plan?
  • What are the specific action steps for the objectives and priorities in the current plan?
  • Is the plan viewed as an entirely new vision for services and collections at UFL or is it viewed as a strategy for allocating resources to enhance existing services and collections?

Please act to restore the community’s trust in Urbana Free Library. We are watching and listening.


Danielle Chynoweth
Brian Dolinar
John Paul (JP) Goguen
Ben Grosser
Laura Haber
Charles Harris
Frances Harris
Taylor Hocutt
Barbara Horne
Betsy Hearne
Andrew Heathwaite
Daniel S. Johnson
Al Kagan
Dan Keding
Kathryn La Barre
Kate McDowell
Erin Miller
Tracy Nectoux
Jadon Peck
Ashley R. Price
Jennifer Roth
Carey Smith
Lawrence D. Smith
Joan Stolz
Maggie Taylor
Don Thorsen
Carol L. Tilley

If you are an Urbana (or Champaign) resident and wish to have your name added to this letter prior to its release to the News-Gazette site and its mailing to the Urbana Free Library Board of Trustees, please send your name and street address to reclaimingourlibrary@gmail.com by Monday, July 29, at noon.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Little News

The Library's June 2013 statistical report was posted this weekend, making available a more complete view of changes in collections and circulation over the past several years. You can view a compilation spreadsheet of data points since 2007 and offer your comments / questions as well.

Interestingly the June 2013 report DOES NOT include accurate information about the extensive weeding of a portion of the adult nonfiction collection (#bookgate) that precipitated public concern. If you examine the report, you will not that it states 161 adult nonfiction and 9231 adult fiction books were removed from the collection. In actuality more than 9,000 nonfiction books were shipped to Better World Books. I

Many of the weeded books have been returned to the Library from Better World Books, and adult services librarians  are now re-evaluating these materials. A large number of these previously weeded books will likely be returned to the collection, but it may be several weeks before more accurate collection figures are available.

Director Lissak has provided some information about strategic planning in response to FOIA requests, but much of what she has returned is fairly minimal and consists primarily of documents recently made available on the Library's website. In the near future, we will compile documents from the FOIA requests and make them publicly available on this website.

In the News-Gazette, you can read librarian Amber Casten's tribute to recently retired head of adult services Anne Phillips  and a thoughtful commentary on library governance and public oversight by Barbara Wysocki.

The next meeting of the Urbana Free Library's Board of Trustees is Tuesday, August 13. If you are a local resident, we hope you will attend. We have much to learn from the Board about plans for an interim director,  how the public will be allowed to participate in strategic planning, and more. There are many questions that remain unanswered too. This blog will offer more information about the meeting closer to its occurrence.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Updates since the July 9 Trustee's Meeting

(8:00 a.m., July 16)

Thank you for letting us know your favorite aspects of Urbana Free Library. 87% of you named the 'fantastic selection of old and new books' as what you enjoy most, and 81% reported that the 'friendly staff and librarians' were tops for you. Many of you appreciate the AV selections and the magazines, and a smaller number of you enjoy the programming, computers, and space.

Keep track of the full timeline of events here (comment welcomed): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1P5LS5DtPzTDvl9OoyzYfMzxOdUthhd4MrvXse9THmRM

(10 a.m., July 15)

(12 p.m., July 12)

Thank you for your input on the poll (now closed). 59% of voters want to "demand Trustees reopen the strategic planning process," 54% of voters want to "work to ensure that the Library doesn't create an digital / device divide by shifting too much of its collection to online, downloadable, and streaming items," and 48% want to "thank Director Lissak for her service."

If you still have ideas, please add them as comments to this post or by sending an e-mail to reclaimingourlibrary@gmail.com

(9 a.m., July 12)
(10 p.m., July 11)
(9 a.m., July 10)
Here's some of the news coverage of last night's meeting:

If you would like to view the full meeting, please see the archived stream.

(11 p.m. July 9)

More soon, but there were dozens of people who remained in the Library's auditorium, waiting for the Board to return from closed session. At around 10 p.m. the Board returned with the announcement that Director Lissak would be pursuing early separation; details will be forthcoming.

Many issues remain on the table: grievance policy and strategic planning among them. We've got movement in the 'right' direction, but much work remains to be done.

Is This Strategic Plan 'Strategic' or a 'Plan'?

In May 2013, the Urbana Free Library's Board of Trustees voted to accept the Library's Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2014 - 2016. You can read the full document here.

On pages 2 and 3, you can read about the process. Among the items absent from this description of process is any attempt at a community needs assessment. The only document that points to some attempt at a needs assessment is a 5-year old patron survey, which had a 30% response rate (<350 REGISTERED BORROWERS). Yes, there is a more recent survey of parking that the library conducted, but that doesn't really count as anything complete.

In fact, the Director worked used a planning strategy that discouraged participants from considering the Library's history and traditions. The planning model even discouraged the use of focus groups and surveys, as "they are rarely visionary" (p. 2). Read more here.

Our Library's direction - the service priorities that omit lifelong learning (p. 6) - were determined in large measure by an appointed panel of community representatives, an appointed Board of Trustees, and the Library's administrators. Library staff had limited roles. The community of Urbana - whether registered borrowers of the Library or those who have less formal or no connections to the Library - were disenfranchised.

The strategic plan also omits action steps, a vital element in any plan. For instance, how will the Library achieve an increase in the circulation of adult materials? What must it do to see an increase in the use of meeting spaces?

It includes generic objectives and evaluation targets, It only minimally addresses how evaluation will occur; for example, it fails to address who will do the evaluation or when evaluation will occur or how the evaluation will be used?

The Urbana Free Library's strategic plan, as it currently exists, is neither strategic nor a plan. Consider instead the process and result from Seattle Public Library's most recent strategic plan: http://www.spl.org/about-the-library/strategic-planning  There are most likely imperfections in it as well, but as a whole, it comes infinitely closer to responsible and responsive planning and stewardship than the shallow, uninformed plan produced for Urbana Free Library.

Why is the Director opposed to re-opening the strategic planning process, even to allow for public comment (p. 3)? If this is a strong plan, it should withstand public scrutiny.

Let's say the planning process started anew, using a better model. Perhaps it will result in the same service priorities. That's fine. At least we can be certain that the Library is moving in a direction that the community values and demands.

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Few Reasons You Should Care about #BOOKGATE Even If You're Not from Urbana

I had a moment (or two) this evening. I wanted to encapsulate in a few tweets why what's going on / wrong at Urbana Free Library matters to everyone. This brief list isn't intended to be comprehensive, but I hope it will provoke conversation.

  1. Public libraries are public institutions intended for the public good. We must ensure they remain responsive to the public.
  2. Public libraries have always had to respond to competing needs, but libraries must understand those needs first!
  3. Public libraries must remain a bulwark against digital / device divide; streaming & downloadable content don't work for all (and aren't desirable for others).
  4. False dichotomies (e.g. change vs tradition, analog vs digital, space vs materials) should not drive strategic planning.
  5. Librarians & library staff serve the public. It's not about pay or glamor or recognition. Their expertise & service ethic matter. They should not be bullied or belittled. They should have a meaningful voice in planning and implementation of services.
  6. Strategic planning which is rushed, is not driven by genuine needs, and fails to include stakeholder and community voices is neither strategic nor planned. 
  7. Public libraries should steward public resources for public good. That does not mean, however, they should be run like a business.

I do not want to send my LIS students out into a world of cookie-cutter, corporatized public libraries. This is my Howard Beale / Network moment: I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore.

If you're mad as hell too, do something

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Trustee Bill Brown speaks about the crisis at Urbana Free Library

In today's News-Gazette (Sunday, July 7), Trustee Bill Brown - the newest member of the Library's Board - presents his thoughts on recent events and actions.

Here's are excerpts of Brown's comments:

The public comments at board meetings on June 11 and 19, as well as the city council meeting June 17, and the dedicated research and other materials provided by interested members of the public, will make it possible for the board to begin to address the many concerns library patrons have brought forward...
The library director recently put detailed statistics on the library website showing the sections that were weeded with this process. She also put board packets for previous meetings on the site along with the minutes that were already there. While this is a start to greater transparency, the board obviously would benefit from more public scrutiny. Not only was our adjournment late into the night on the 19th a violation of the Open Meetings Act, three of the first five meetings this year also adjourned after closing hours. If a member of the public wants to come to see the last five minutes of a meeting, they should be able to do that. Meeting rooms must remain open and meetings should be video recorded and archived...
In all of this, I'd like to remind folks that our library is more than a building and books and media and meeting space. The library has achieved excellence and respect through the work of people — directors, trustees and employees. There is no point in trashing reputations, but it's perfectly acceptable to be professionally critical of those who can respond in public — the director and the board. 
There is no excuse for shifting blame to employees or criticizing them in public. One of the first priorities of the board should be establishing effective grievance procedures and protections to help alleviate tension in the workplace. 
Thank you, Trustee Brown, for standing up against the status quo. We must discourage 'blamesplaining and voice our concerns. Let's put the public back in our public library.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Urbana Free Library Trustees Meeting, July 9

Will you be attending the next Urbana Free Library Board of Trustees meeting on July 9? Learn more & register your interest in attending:


Updates and Resources

In addition to the regular blog posts, please be sure to take a look at the pages (in the right-hand column):

  • In the News - links to traditional and social media accounts of ongoing events at Urbana Free Library
  • Community Questions - a list of questions asked by various individuals who attended the June 19 Trustees meeting
  • Take Action - a variety of ways to help ensure a healthy future for Urbana Free Library, its staff, and our community

In the next day, look for a FAQ (frequently asked questions) guide to events, actions, and policies.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Director Responds to the Past Month's Controversies

Please read the Director's report to the Board of Trustees in advance of next Tuesday's meeting: you can find it here.

Here's part of what Lissak said about the problematic Strategic Planning and process:
"I would strongly discourage any rewrite of the Strategic Plan. We had an especially strong community committee that was very representative of Urbana. The plan includes concrete measures of our efforts and a method for the Board to evaluate and revise the plan annually" (p. 3)
 And here's a selection from her comments on weeding:
"The non-fiction weeding controversy surfaced mid-month. The controversy began with false allegations sent in a letter to City Council and Board, and the false statements then spread through social media" (p. 4)
If you find her response satisfactory, then consider your / our work done. But if you find yourself outraged—as many of us who have been working closely on this issue do—then I hope you will come to the Trustees meeting on Tuesday, July 9, in the Library's Auditorium. It's scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m.

Trustees Meeting!

The next meeting of the Urbana Free Library's Board of Trustees is scheduled for Tuesday, July 2, at 7:30 p.m. in the Library's ground floor auditorium. There has been some indication that the start time for the meeting might be moved to 6:30 p.m., so please check back here for the most current information.

If you are interested in speaking at this meeting during the public comment portion, please note the following guidelines from the Trustees' By-Laws:

Designated comment period 
Public comments are the first items addressed under Petitions and Communications in the agenda. The presiding chair may require persons wishing to speak to sign in before the start of the meeting and to provide their names, addresses, and topics to be discussed. Prior to speaking, each person must be recognized by the presiding chair and must state his or her name and address for the public record.

Time limits
Public comment is limited to no more than five minutes per person and to no more than two hours per meeting, unless extended by consent of a majority vote of the members present. The presiding chair shall monitor each speaker’s use of time and shall notify the speaker when the time allotted has expired.
Limits on group comments
If the presiding chair recognizes that more than twenty persons desire to speak, he or she may limit each speaker to comments of no more than three minutes. 
Whenever any group of persons wishes to address the Board on the same topic, the presiding chair may ask that a spokesperson be chosen from the group. If additional matters are to be presented by other persons in the group, the presiding chair may limit the number of such persons and may limit the presentation to information not already presented by the group spokesperson.

Invited comments Persons invited by the presiding chair to address the Board are subject to such time
limits as the majority of the members present may prescribe.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Consider showing your support for the librarians and staff!

As a former librarian and current library school faculty member, I recognize how hard the librarians and staff at UFL work. I hope you'll consider showing your support for them by adding your name to this online petition. More than the collections they manage, more than programming they offer, the librarians and the staff are the Library's true heart.

Consider your signature a virtual 'hug' to each of them.


This blog is intended to serve as a clearinghouse for information as well as a space for collegial dialogue related to Urbana Free Library (UFL / The Library). The goal for this blog is to support Urbana community members and other interested persons in advocating for a stronger, more responsive, inclusive Urbana Free Library for the immediate, mid, and long term.

Background Information

In June 2013 the Library removed 9600 adult nonfiction books in only 4 days. Thousands of books about art, religion, home improvement and more were boxed up and sent to a vendor.

The director told staff to discard books quickly – just by looking at lists instead of by using professional knowledge.

According to reports, the director pressured and bullied Adult Services librarians into discarding books that the public wants to keep in the library.

Libraries regularly “weed” books that are outdated, in bad condition, or no longer relevant to the public, but it shouldn’t happen this way.

What’s next to go?

Led by an outside consultant, the Library created a strategic plan for big changes. Some of these planned changes have been made public. Some have not been articulated publicly by the Administration, but have been described by various staff members. For example, there are plans to significantly reduce the magazine, CD and DVD collections. Some public spaces such as the 1st floor reading rooms may be repurposed.

What's the bigger picture?

People in the community are mostly unaware of these plans. Our voices have not been heard. We want these plans to be made public and a chance to get clear answers.

The Library belongs to the public and the people of Urbana should help decide its future.

How has the Administration responded?

Hundreds of Urbana citizens and library lovers from around the country have contacted the Director and the Board, to demand answers.

The Administration has blamed staff in press interviews and has yet to answer our questions.

The Board has said it will open the Strategic Plan for comment, but will our voices be heard?

We need information, but staff who have come forward to talk have been threatened and have no protection from retaliation.

How can I speak out?

The Library Board meets Tuesday, July 9 at 7:30 pm in the library’s auditorium. We hope you’ll come and tell your friends about it.

Contact information for the Board is here: http://bit.ly/1a2tZi9

Contact the Director at dlissak@tufl.info or 217-367-4057