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 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.