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Corbeil Named New Library Director

By Judith Scherr
Friday December 08, 2006

Donna Corbeil, Solano County Library deputy director, was named Berkeley’s new library director Wednesday night. 

But the announcement, coming after a 90-minute closed-session meeting of the Berkeley Board of Library Trustees, was not greeted with enthusiasm by the three dozen people in attendance. 

Before the closed-door session, staff and public participants, speaking during the public comment period, asked the board to delay the decision to name the new director in order to get broader public and union input into the job description and to recruit a larger field of candidates. 

Reached by phone on Thursday, Corbeil was upbeat. “I’m so excited,” she said. “I feel I am going to give this my best effort to move the library forward in a positive manner.” 

Asked how she would overcome the community’s initial disappointment, Corbeil said she would work through the issues with the staff and the public. “I hope people are willing to work with me,” she said. 

Corbeil will replace former Director Jackie Griffin, forced out of her position last summer under pressure from the staff, who said she retaliated against outspoken librarians and from the public, which protested Griffin’s initiation of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags in books with little public input. 

Before going to work in Solano County two years ago, Corbeil, an Oakland resident, headed the San Francisco branch libraries for five years and, before that, worked at the Oakland Public Library.  

During the public comment period, Jane Welford of SuperBOLD, Berkeleyans Organizing for Library Defense, criticized the trustees for writing a job-search brochure without asking the community what they wanted in a librarian. 

And Gene Bernardi, also of SuperBOLD reminded the trustees that the community had collected 1,000 signatures in opposition to the RFID tags, but that was ignored in the search process. 

“We’re asking you to step back, open the process to other candidates,” said Roya Arasteh, a library worker speaking for herself.  

Trustee Chair Susan Kupfer made the announcement to the silent group, praising the unanimous selection. Responding to criticism about the selection process, Kupfer carefully detailed the composition of panelists—community, staff, trustees—who had interviewed and evaluated the candidates. “I’ve never seen a process this public,” she said. 

Trustee Ying Lee, called on the public for their help. “We’ve all got to support the director,” she said. “She’s got to have a long honeymoon period.” 

Blasting the trustees’ treatment of the union during the selection process as “totally disrespectful to the union,” Anes Lewis-Partridge, field director for SEIU Local 535, addressed the trustees after the selection was announced.  

The selection process had been flawed from the outset, she said, noting that the union had been excluded from participating in developing criteria for the position. The union had asked that candidates write about their experience with labor relations as part of the application process. “All we got was one line about labor relations” in the job announcement, she said. 

And, she added, the union had asked for a union panel to interview the candidates and raise specifically union issues.  

Library trustees said they were unaware of the concerns, which Lewis-Partridge said she had directed to Acting Director Roger Pearson.  

“We did not have input. This does not bode well for us,” Lewis-Partridge said. “We are not beginning on the best foot.” 

In the Thursday phone interview, Corbeil said she plans to move quickly to fill the many library vacancies, which she said must be a burden on the present staff.  

At the Nov. 18 public interview, Corbeil addressed hiring, saying her philosophy was “grow your own.” She said she hoped to move people up the ranks, promoting from within the library. She also said diversity and hiring from the community was a priority. “The library staff should reflect the community,” she said.  

Also at the Nov. 18 public question period, Corbeil responded to a question on the RFID tags, acknowledging that this could be a privacy issue. “Privacy is a very important issue for librarians,” she said at the time, noting, however, “The Board of Trustees has made a commitment to RFID.”