Search for New Berkeley Library Director Continues

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday November 21, 2006

The Library Board of Trustees huddled in closed session Saturday afternoon and evening to interview finalists for the director position.  

“No action was taken,” said Trustee President Susan Kupfer in a phone interview Monday. Kupfer said the trustees were doing “due diligence.” She declined to elaborate. 

The board will meet Nov. 29 to discuss the matter further, at a time and place to be determined. 

Selection of the library director is a particularly sensitive matter at this time, since the former director resigned having lost the confidence of much of the staff and vocal members of the community, especially the group SuperBOLD, Berkeleyans Organized for Library Defense. 

Four candidates appeared before a number of panels on Thursday and Friday that included members of the City Council and School Board, as well as staff and members of the Friends of the Berkeley Library and the Library Foundation. 

On Saturday, they were interviewed in a four-hour public session, which drew about 40 people. 

The process, organized by June Garcia of the Atlanta-based consulting firm Dubberly-Garcia, was publicized in newspapers and at the libraries, but was criticized by Peter Warfield of SuperBOLD for lacking broader community outreach. 

Many of those attending the public session were library workers. “We’re looking for someone who understands community needs” and staff’s abilities to contribute, said Andrea Segall, Acting President of the Berkeley Chapter of Service Employees International Union 535.  

The union was disappointed in the process: while library staff had participated on the panels, there was no formal union representation, she said.  

And “we weren’t part of the process until this stage,” Segall said. 

This was also a criticism Warfield expressed. Both groups would have wanted to play a role in setting the criteria for a new director and participating in selection of the search firm. Both said they wanted the trustees to take their time making a decision, listening closely to the communities from which the candidates come. 

Library worker Roya Arasteh said she was looking for someone who would “co-create a vision” with library staff. 

“People come with an already prepared vision and try to force it on staff,” she said. 

Members of SuperBOLD were anxious to learn about the candidates’ view of Radio Frequency Identification tags, which they say the former director pushed through without adequate public consideration. 



Gerry Garzon was one of the four finalists. He began his career as a bookmobile driver in Ventura County and is now deputy director of the Oakland Public Libraries. 

Addressing the future of librarians, Garzon said he thinks people need education to use electronic databases. People think if they find something on the Internet, it’s true, he said, but “the library can help people differentiate.” 

On the question of RFID, Garzon said, “We tested RFID [in Oakland] and pulled the plug.” 

Its future should be a decision of the board and community and staff, he added. 

Garzon talked about working with unions in Oakland, meeting with them regularly, not only at bargaining time. One of the challenges he faced was having staff relocate in order to staff a new outreach program at one library. 

“It was for the good of the public, but required us to make a change,” he said. 



Rivkah Sass directs the libraries in Omaha, Neb. She called herself a risk-taker. “You don’t learn if you don’t take risks,” she said. 

She talked about making the library more “entrepreneurial,” by which, she explained to the Daily Planet after the presentation, she meant a variety of things—from getting funds from wealthy people for the library foundation, to locating an independent bookstore next to the library. 

“I’m very worried about the future of public libraries,” she said.  

Responding to a question about diversity, Sass said, “I don’t think Berkeley is all that diverse” racially and economically.  

And on RFID, she said: “My dog is chipped,” but explicitly declined to get involved in the question at this point, knowing that it is a controversial subject. It’s important to know “if RFID makes it easier,” she said. “I need to know the concerns.”  



Valerie Gross, who directs the Howard County (Maryland) Libraries, talked about the importance of working with staff. For example, in a staff development session, “I give credit, praise. I make her shine,” she said.  

She said she wants to work with schools and pointed to a program in Howard County where struggling readers read to therapy dogs so that they are not embarrassed by their reading difficulties. 

On RFID, Gross said she “had fewer concerns than many do,” but that she would listen to concerns and would “get information from IT [information technology] experts.” She noted, also, that a lot of money had already been spent on the technology, “taxpayer money.”  

“The board is the ultimate decision-maker,” she said. 

Gross said staff development was important and pointed to areas such as time management and personal responsibility. 



Donna Corbeil is deputy director at the Solano County Library. Asked about RFID, she said that she knew it was controversial in Berkeley, but that “the board of trustees has made a commitment to it.” She added, however, that “privacy is a very important issue for librarians.”  

One of the complexities of RFID is that it helps staff with their workload, she said, and “it’s not fair for me to judge a previous decision.” 

Addressing staff development, Corbeil said it is important to “grow your own,” that is, to support people who may come into the library as shelvers and help them to become librarians.  

Corbeil said she generally learns what staff concerns are in staff meetings, but said staff would also be able to express themselves though “anonymous e-mails.”