Public Comment

Commentary: Public Library Director Selection Process: Bad Process, Wrong People, Outsourcers

By Peter Warfield and Gene Bernardi
Friday November 17, 2006

Will operation of the Berkeley Public Library (BPL) be outsourced to a private, for-profit agency? Will the next library director be another pro-RFID autocrat with little respect for staff and the public? The signs for a good outcome look cloudy, because the Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) search for a new director is using a bad process, the wrong people, and a search firm whose principals are active advocates of outsourcing library operations from top to bottom. 


Bad process 

BOLT has set up a process that has made most decisions without effective public input, including creation of three committees with no clearly-defined decision-making powers, and selection of a search firm, Dubberly and Garcia. BOLT president Susan Kupfer appears to be making most of the decisions on her own, without the library trustees’ participation.  

The names and resumes of the reported four final candidates were not released as of Tuesday, Nov. 14—even though they are to be presented to the public on Saturday, Nov. 18. The timetable for replacing the librarian who left in early June is much too fast for the necessary considered evaluation and discussion—and is a set-up for minimal public input. What’s the hurry? We have an interim director. 

Flash: We learned on Nov. 15 the names of the final four candidates—far too late for considered review and discussion. We understand from a reliable source that all are from RFID libraries, except the candidate from Oakland, where RFID is being removed from one trial branch.  


Wrong people 

The primary group advising BOLT on the selection of a new library director is a seven-member advisory committee of librarians from other jurisdictions, a majority of whom have either advocated use of privacy-threatening RFID or are associated with libraries that have installed it. What chance is there that the librarians’ committee would approve a candidate who understands the downsides of RFID and who would consider removing it from BPL’s books? 

Committee member Susan Hildreth, currently state librarian and, until June 30, 2004, head of San Francisco Public Library (SFPL), and Luis Herrera, SFPL’s current head, sought RFID funding in 2004 and 2005 that the San Francisco Board of supervisors did not approve.  

Additional members include Susan Hardy of Alameda Public Library, which recently installed the technology, and Carmen Gutierrez of Oakland Public Library, which installed RFID at one branch.  

Hildreth and Herrera have a reputation of being hostile to public openness. For example, under Hildreth, SFPL had more complaints filed with the city’s official open government watchdog, the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force (SOTF)—and was found in violation—more often than any other city department. The SOTF referred one of the violations – failure to provide information, related to the library’s RFID advocacy, about staff repetitive stress injuries—to the district attorney and Ethics Commission for enforcement in October, 2004.  


Outsourcing advocacy 

Dubberly and Garcia have been engaged as the search firm—but this did not come to BOLT for formal action, and the public record does not reveal the cost or who is paying. 

Who are these folks? Ron Dubberly and his business partner, June Garcia, are two of the current five members on the Advisory Council of LSSI (Library Systems and Services, Inc.), a Germantown, MD company known for helping libraries outsource.  

Dubberly wrote an article, “Why Outsourcing is Our Friend,” published in the January, 1998 edition of American Libraries magazine. The article praises a 1997 contract between LSSI and Riverside County, Calif., to manage and operate the county’s Riverside County Library System (RCLS). Dubberly wrote that the county librarian is “the only remaining library staffer employed by local authorities. Everyone else who now works at [RCLS] serves at the discretion of Library Systems and Services.” Further, he wrote, “a private-sector company is better positioned to serve the public more easily and efficiently without the bureaucracy.” 

Norman Oder provides a different view in his Library Journal (LJ) article, “When LSSI Comes to Town: Public libraries, private company: the outsourcing compromise,” (Oct. 1, 2004, pp. 36-40).Oder suggests that there are questions about funding and service quality. He references an American Library Association (ALA) report that said future hires received lower pay and there are ”vague indications of increasing workloads…”  

Other revelations in the LJ article: LSSI prefers having all library employees work for the company. “We have much more control. We can incent them,” says [LSSI CEO Frank] Pezzanite. “If an employee does a good job, we like to give them a $5 gift certificate to Borders Books or Mrs. Fields.”  

The article states, “The loss of civil service rights and pension vesting has alarmed unions and library groups.” Additionally, “LSSI’s record suggests tensions between a profit-seeking company and a public agency. Savings may go to the profits instead of services,” and “the library may be less publicly accountable.” 

Dubberly has not merely advised LSSI, the LJ article says. LSSI actually hired members of its own Advisory Council, including Ron Dubberly and others, “to help LSSI clients on projects.” 


Hype and secrecy 

The 2004 LJ article states, “Some LSSI marketing claims are, at best, imprecise.” As an example, it reports, “a flyer distributed at the New Jersey Conference of Mayors last April said ‘LSSI is currently managing libraries for these communities’; the 20 communities listed represented seven contracts, two of which had expired by that time.”  

In a section headed “Compromising Transparency,” the article indicates “Former employees say LSSI has required them to sign a nondisclosure agreement.” One contract requires Linden, NJ, to portray the early ending of its LSSI contract in the “most positive manner possible.” Another reported example: “Because of a contract clause preventing current Jersey City Public Library (JCPL) top managers from discussing LSSI, it’s hard to evaluate fully LSSI’s performance at JCPL, where it operated from 1999 to 2001.” 



Bad process, including a hasty timetable and secrecy; the wrong people on the advisory committee, and a search firm with connections to a secretive outsourcing company -- these are unlikely to produce a good result for Berkeley.  


Peter Warfield is executive director of the Library Users Association ( Gene Bernardi and Warfield are SuperBOLD members.  


The four library director finalists are scheduled to make presentations to the public in the Story Room, fourth floor, main library, on Saturday Nov. 18 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. A trustees meeting with public comment is to follow. 

The library’s Nov. 15 press release announcement says the four finalists for director of Library Services are Donna Corbeil, deputy director at the Solano County Library; Gerry Garzon, deputy director at Oakland Public Library; Valerie G. Gross, director of the Howard County, Library, Maryland; and Rivkah K. Sass, library director of the Omaha Public Library, Nebraska.