Public Comment

Commentary: Library Director Should Not Act As Trustee Board Secretary

By Shirley Stuart
Tuesday July 25, 2006

Berkeley relies on the Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) to safeguard its library system, and we, the citizens and taxpayers of Berkeley, along with the people who staff our libraries, should have some influence on their decisions. 

The dual appointment of library director as BOLT secretary is a clear conflict of interest. There is a misconception in the community that duties of the BOLT secretary are similar to those of a business or club secretary, but the BOLT secretary has a much more powerful position than that—potentially a role more powerful than any member of the board. Such an exercise of power may explain why it took BOLT so long to understand that it must remove Jackie Griffin as library director. Serving also as board secretary, it was in fact Griffin who set board agendas, decided what materials and information would be presented to BOLT, received and screened all mail and e-mail addressed to BOLT, and in general, maneuvered BOLT’s direction. 

If BOLT was not aware of her mismanagement, perhaps it was because she distorted the effects of what she was doing. Otherwise, how could BOLT not have seen that the library was out of control, that tax dollars were being squandered, that workers who spoke out were being retaliated against? 

Didn’t BOLT know that after half a million dollars was borrowed from the City Council budget to spend on RFID (a system BOLT approved for misrepresented reasons), RFID costs then soared to more than a million dollars? Books were trashed to reduce costs of RFID installation; library  

hours had been drastically cut; new administrative positions were being created while staffing at all levels was depleted; books went unshelved because shelvers were no longer available to do the work. The director seems to have presented BOLT a rubber stamp to just approve anything she chose to do. 

Mismanagement was brought to BOLT’s attention repeatedly at board meetings, in public commentary and by testimony from staff (who were rewarded with punishment for daring to describe what was happening in the library); by demonstrations; and in meetings called to resolve conflicts. You ignored all criticism. For five years, the effects of Griffin’s incompetence went unchecked, and we will be paying the costs of her actions for a very long time. 

Apparently, it required pressure from the City Council to force BOLT to listen to the union and the public, and ultimately to remove Griffin as director. The question now is what are they doing to rectify the situation? 

It is BOLT’s responsibility to learn for themselves how the library operates, what its mission is, how library staff is being treated, and where money should and should not be spent. Otherwise, what is the purpose of having a board? 

It is vital that BOLT does not allow this to happen again. They could begin by appointing their own secretary for BOLT and taking responsibility for controlling the actions of the director. 


Shirley Stuart is a Berkeley resident.