Public Comment

Commentary: Outsourced Library Director Search Draws Inexperienced Candidates

By Peter Warfield
Friday December 01, 2006

Dubberly Garcia Associates brought the library director search to Berkeley’s public the week before Thanksgiving, complete with what appeared to be carefully-rehearsed performing library administrators and happy-talk statements that were short on verifiable facts such as positions held where and when. Subsequent research showed the candidates’ experience as library directors is brief to none.  

Dubberly Garcia is the search firm that the Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) hired to help find a new library director. We think this work is so important that the Trustees should do it themselves, with the help of library or other city employees.  

The public saw the candidates on Saturday, Nov. 18 at the main library from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with no lunch hour. Each candidate had 45 minutes, including questions, then the public had a 15-minute break. 

They final candidates are: Donna Corbeil, deputy director at Solano County Library; Gerry Garzon, deputy diirector at Oakland Public Library; Valerie J. Gross, director of Howard County (Maryland) Library; and Rivkah Sass, head of Omaha Public Library. 

Corbeil and Garzon have never been library directors; they are first-time deputy directors with two years and one year of experience, respectively. The two other candidates are first-time library directors, Sass with only about three years’ experience and Gross having five.  


Candidate connections  

Corbeil was chief of Branches under former San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) head Susan Hildreth for about five years until Gov. Schwarzenegger appointed Hildreth state librarian in mid-2004. Hildreth sits on BOLT’s library directors panel. Garzon currently works for Carmen Martinez, head of Oakland Public Library, and she also is a member of BOLT’s library directors panel.  


Publicity lacking 

There was no publicity about the presentations outside the library. Inside, there was a single flyer announcing “presentations by the finalists,” but nothing about candidate presentations in the November, 2006 edition of “What’s Happening Here,” billed as the “Newsletter of the Berkeley Public Library.”  


Getting started 

June Garcia of Dubberly Garcia, energetic, vigorous, grinning cheerfully, ran the day’s program, and made the introductions. BOLT chair Kupfer announced the special 3 p.m. meeting of BOLT, without mentioning what was on the agenda—action or discussion on the directorship—or that public comment would be taken prior to going into closed session. How much public comment? “Proposed 20-minute limit, with speakers speaking for two minutes each,” said the agenda. 


Comment forms omit books, unions 

Garcia invited the public to take two-page candidate statements and Comment Forms, which included 27 criteria and a rating scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high).  

There was nothing at all about books or collections.  

The only two items mentioning staff said “Staff and staff development—values,” and “Visible and accessible to staff”—nothing about working successfully with staff or unions.  

Some criteria seemed redundant: “Service—focuses on responsiveness,” and “Service orientated.”  

And there were two criteria at least arguably related to privatization: “Fundraising—knowledge of,” and “Nurtures Friends and Foundation organizations.”  

I asked Garcia about the criteria. Her answer was surprising. They were standard things that they had thrown in, in no particular order, she said. Yet—the list of criteria was important enough to carry a copyright notice. Dubberly Garcia’s website advertises “opinion surveys and customer research” as one of its services, so one would expect any survey to provide criteria tailored with great care to the qualities sought and to evaluation priorities. 


RFID waffling 

Two to four different people asked each candidate questions indicating concern with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. RFID was recently installed in BPL’s books and materials despite opposition from the ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Library Users Association, and many other groups and individuals, primarily because of the multiple privacy threats as well as potential health risks, high cost, and other problems posed by RFID.  

Yet none of the candidates expressed concern with these issues, although Garzon said he had pulled RFID from Oakland’s only branch because the technology did not work well. (After the presentation he identified the vendor as Libramation.) 

As a retired librarian friend of mine said, “All four of them accepted RFID more or less, or didn’t want to talk about it too much. I cannot imagine that they did not know more about it.” 

Instead of resumes, each candidate had prepared a two-page statement. It was unclear who had specified to the candidates what to do.  


Gerry Garzon 

Gerry Garzon wrote, “if we’ve been invited to interview for this job, we’ve all got a number of accomplishments over our professional lives and I won’t detail those here.” Why not? He included more information about positions and dates than the others, but combined two positions in each of his last two libraries, making it impossible to know how long he held each one. 


Valerie Gross 

Valerie Gross’s statement had the fewest specifics, trumpeting at the top in large type, “A New Direction for a Great Public Library.” The first sentence: “These are exciting times for public libraries!”  


Rivkah Sass 

Rivkah Sass’s statement didn’t mention the names of the libraries she has worked at or for how long, instead naming the states of “Washington, Maryland, Oregon and Nebraska.” Subsequent research indicated that Dubberly Garcia brought her to Omaha in September, 2003.  


Donna Corbeil 

Full disclosure: as someone who follows the San Francisco Public Library closely, I know more about her than the other candidates. 

Corbeil’s statement says under the heading “Fiscal Management” that she “managed all aspects of developing a tool-lending center and the ongoing oversight of the operation by contract with a local nonprofit agency.” That agency would be SLUG, San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners, and whatever Corbeil’s role, it ended abruptly when SLUG apparently failed to show up one day and left the SFPL holding the bag. SFPL’s Minutes for Aug. 21, 2003, say City Librarian Susan Hildreth “lauded Donna Corbeil” and the heads of finance and facilities “for quickly and efficiently responding to the unexpected difficulties of SLUG.”  

The city librarian’s report, also provided in the Minutes, says SLUG “stopped operations” in July “due to fiscal difficulties; and the Tool Center temporarily ceased operation. Library staff retrieved tools that were being used and secured all city assets at the Tool Center.” The Library Commission never put a discussion of what happened on its agenda, and there was no formal library investigation. We do not think the library or Corbeil did anything wrong, but to list the SLUG experience under “Financial Management” seems ill-advised. 



We think that BOLT should start over and do this important job on its own, with a much more public process, more public input, and and greater clarity about desirable qualities including leadership experience. That way there would be no question about who is responsible and whose interests are being served. 


Peter Warfield is executive director of the Library Users Association.