Jeff Scott
Jeff Scott: resigned as director of Berkeley Public Library, effective Sept. 8

The Berkeley Public Library announced Monday that Jeff Scott has officially resigned from his position as director of library services. The move comes just 10 months after Scott took the position, in November 2014. The resignation is effective Sept. 8.  

Scott’s abrupt departure comes in the wake of a controversy over the weeding of books at Berkeley’s central library, which has put the library director on the defensive over the past few weeks. Criticism centered on his management style and his perceived honesty.

“It is with a heavy heart that I tender my resignation as the Director of Library Services of the Berkeley Public Library. I have enjoyed my work here at the library and I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish,” Scott said in a prepared statement.

The Library Board of Trustees will initiate a search to fill Scott’s position, according to the statement, released by Abigail Franklin, chair of the board, shortly after 2 p.m. Monday. In the interim, Sarah Dentan, acting deputy director, will serve as acting director.

Read more about the controversial weeding at Berkeley’s central library.

“I have appreciated the enthusiasm for library services that Jeff has brought to Berkeley and wish him well,” Franklin said.

Members of the public, as well as current and former librarians, have accused Scott of lying to the public about the number of books discarded by the library in the weeding process, and said he took key library personnel out of the process.

Just under 1,000 people signed a petition calling for Scott’s suspension or removal.

Scott took much of the criticism head on at a specially called meeting of the Board of Library Trustees last week, Aug. 27.

At the meeting, people complained about what they said was an overly aggressive book weeding policy, as well as what they perceived to be a hostile working environment at the libraries, and a lack of honesty and trust. They said they thought Scott had lied to the community about the number of items weeded out. Scott initially said he thought 2,200 items had been discarded this year. He later acknowledged that the real number was 39,000, pointing out that in a previous year more than 50,000 items were weeded out. Some also said they were punished for speaking out against the collections management policy.

A number of the speakers called for Scott to be either fired or suspended without pay.

Pat Mullan, a former librarian who was a leader in the campaign against the weeding, said today she was “relieved” at the news of Scott’s resignation.

‘The community is aghast at what happened. I hope the library board now can take the reins and find an interim director who understands the staff and the collection while doing a national search. “

Mullan added that she thought two other staffers in collection management should also leave.

library board
Jeff Scott, far left at table, talks to members of BOLT before a special Aug. 26 meeting where the library director came under fire. The BOLT member are, from left to right, Winston Burton, Abigail Franklin, Julie Holcomb, and Darryl Moore. Jim Novosel was absent. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

“I am really happy he is gone. He was the wrong man for the job,” said Bob Baty, who retired as head of maintenance at BPL in 2008 after 19 years, and who now serves on the board of the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library. “He consistently lied to us about the number of books that were pulped, number one. And number two, he kept saying they were all were going to the Friends, and all we got were five boxes out of 39,000 volumes. So he broke trust with the entire staff and therefore his ability to lead was gone.”

City Councilman Kriss Worthington, who called last week for an independent investigation into the weeding issue, said he is not necessarily happy about Scott’s resignation. If an investigation reveals that Scott was the sole person responsible for the mistreatment of librarians and obscuring the truth about the number of weeded books, then it is good that he is leaving, said Worthington. But if others were involved, they must also be held to account, he said.

“If somebody else is responsible for the mistreatment of the librarians and inaccurate information, they shouldn’t be off the hook and have him be the sacrificial lamb,” said Worthington. “We need to see what went wrong. Where did the inaccurate information come from. Did it come from him only? From one person to him? From two people to him? Who made the mistakes?”

Baty said he thought the BOLT board had to come up with a better selection process. “Two out of the last three directors have been dogs,” he said.

This is the second Berkeley library director who has been forced to resign in recent history. Jackie Griffin resigned in 2006 over union-related issues.

Scott was running for the position of president of the California Library Association. He announced on Twitter this afternoon that he is still running for the position.

In today’s release Franklin said: “I am so proud of our library system and our four newly renovated branches. I have full confidence in our dedicated staff and management team to continue to provide excellent service to the Berkeley community.”

While Scott was only in his position for about ten months, he oversaw the creation of a new strategic plan for the library, one that included created a larger gathering spot for teens in the Central Library. He was concerned about how to balance the needs of the homeless with other patrons and set up a task force to consider the situation. He was also active on social media, tweeting regularly about library events and issues. He is a voracious reader and posted book reviews regularly on Good Reads. 

The board is scheduled to meet next Sept. 9, at which time it will discuss the details for a new director search.

“We feel the role of the Director of the Berkeley Public Library is a terrific opportunity, and we look forward to proceeding with that selection,” said Library Board Chair Franklin.

Berkeleyside updated this developing story as we gathered new information.

Performance of Berkeley’s library director under fire at meeting of library trustees (08.27.15)
Berkeley library director admits vast discrepancies in numbers of weeded books (08.12.15)
Obscure and popular books part of the library weeding process (08.02.15)
Protesters rally over library weeding (07.14.15)
Library fans voice concern over weeding of books (07.08.15)
Op-ed: The Berkeley Public Library is central to our community (01.15.15)
Op-ed by Jeff Scott: Berkeley Public Library is a shelter from the storm (12.12.14)

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...