Heidi Dolamore. Photo: San Jose Public Library
Heidi Dolamore. Photo: San Jose Public Library

The Board of Library Trustees is poised to hire Heidi Dolamore as the new director of the library at their Wednesday meeting, a move they hope will start to quell more than a year of turmoil.

Dolamore is currently the assistant director of the San Jose Library, a position she has held since January 2015. She has worked in libraries around the region for 15 years, including stints in the Solano County Library, the Contra Costa County Library, and the San Mateo County Library, according to her LinkedIn page. If BOLT confirms her appointment, Dolamore will be paid $180,000 annually.

Dolamore will take over the five-branch system by the end of September, 13 months after the previous director, Jeff Scott, resigned under pressure after the controversial book culling process he oversaw called his integrity into question. Since then, a former Berkeley interim deputy city manager who was not a trained librarian, Beth Pollard, and the library’s #2 person, Sarah Denton, have overseen the library.

The distrust between some members of the library community and BOLT, which supported Scott’s decision to streamline the book weeding process by selecting four administrators to oversee it rather than the 25 librarians who used to participate, seems to have spilled over into the library director selection process.

As word got out that BOLT had selected a new director, various stakeholders claimed that it had not been an open and transparent selection process, even as some admitted they were not fully aware of the details of the process.

Pat Mullan, a retired Berkeley librarian, expressed concern that there was “no staff input whatsoever” in the process. During the last three times a library director was selected, they interviewed with panels made up of librarians and staff, she said.

“When library administration, library staff, staff union members, library support organizations, and the Board of Library Trustees are all parties in the hiring of the Library Director, it indicates that all groups are talking to each other, that all agree on the qualities desired in a leader, and that all trust each other,” a former Berkeley Public Library employee of 28 years wrote to Berkeleyside. She asked not to be identified. “The fact that the Board of Library Trustees has hired this Director based only on the evaluation of outside library directors and community members not connected to the Library is worrying to me.”

Berkeley Public Library. Photo: Nancy Rubin
Berkeley Public Library. Photo: Nancy Rubin

Julie Holcomb, a member of BOLT, said the process did solicit the views of the community – but in a way different than previous selection processes. BOLT hired The Hawkins Company from Los Angeles to help in the selection.

People from Hawkins (which helped Berkeley hire a new director of Health, Housing and Community Services) spent a number of days in Berkeley at the start of the process, said Holcomb. They sent out a survey to library staff and interviewed library managers and community members to create a matrix of skills a new director should have, said Holcomb.

They gathered “all the input at the front end,” said Holcomb.

Hawkins then used this information to find 11 candidates for the position and interviewed them via Skype or phone, she said. Hawkins narrowed the field to six semi-finalists, all of whom were interviewed by a six-person panel made up of three high-level library administrators (including one former library director), one former union president, and two top Berkeley staff. The names of those on the panel will be released on Wednesday, said Holcomb.

BOLT then selected from among two finalists, said Holcomb. The board felt that they had a great deal of information about all the candidates, information that had been fact-checked. The last search firm BOLT used did a more cursory background check, said Holcomb.

Holcomb said she felt confident there has been sufficient community input and defended not having staff panels interview potential directors. In the past, staff has used those opportunities to “send shots across the bow,” she said.

“Choosing a library director is not a political process, it’s a professional process,” said Holcomb. “We need to choose someone with the highest degree of competency.”

Holcomb said Dolamore is keenly aware of the various tensions swirling in the community. She has attended many of the past BOLT meetings and heard what community members had to say.

Mullan said she was encouraged to learn that Dolamore had alrady gone to BOLT meetings. She also said that collecting information about what was needed in a new director at the beginning of the process was “a good approach.”

There are a number of outstanding tensions in the community, though, and Mullan said she hopes the new director can address them.

Retired librarian Pat Mullan (center left in brown jacket) encourages protesters to check out books from the Central Branch of the Berkeley Public Library to save them from weeding on July 14, 2015. Photo: Francesca Paris
In August 2015, community members, including retired librarian Pat Mullan (center left in brown jacket) protested against what they said was the library’s draconian weeding process. Photo: Francesca Paris
In August 2015, community members, including retired librarian Pat Mullan (center left in brown jacket) protested against what they said was the library’s draconian weeding process. Photo: Francesca Paris

A number of library employees have expressed concern that the administration has conducted a “witch hunt” against those who spoke out against Scott’s weeding process, according to emails sent to Berkeleyside. They were the ones who insisted the library was throwing away tens of thousands of books when Scott was saying only a few thousand had been purged. (Scott at first said only a few thousand had been tossed and later admitted 39,000 books had been weeded out).

SEIU 1021, which represents library workers, and community activists have held three rallies before BOLT meetings in recent months to call attention to what they said were retaliatory measures against as many as six employees. They said the library administration had created a hostile work environment, had retaliated and even fired some of the employees.

Those concerned sent hundreds of emails to city council members about the situation, prompting City Councilman Kriss Worthington to ask City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley to investigate.

Williams-Ridley sent a memo on Aug. 24 to the city council stating that the city had received 104 “similarly worded” emails in July alone: “The vast majority of the emails received by the City Clerk include the following opening paragraph: “Defend the whistleblowers. They were doing their jobs in 2015 when the public and city council members were told there had been 2,200 books removed from the library. The whistleblowers gave city council the computer codes that showed the true number of books withdrawn was actually 39,815 volumes. Staff need protection from retaliation, investigations and harassment from managers. Protect the whistleblowers.”

Williams-Ridley said there had been a “number of statements made recently that incorrectly characterize personnel actions happening at the Library.” While personnel confidentiality laws did not allow her to go into detail, she said only one library employee, not six, is currently facing disciplinary action, according to the memo. During the last 18 months, only one other employee faced possible disciplinary action and the matter was “resolved by mutual agreement between the Union, the employee and the Library,” she wrote. There is one union grievance in process, but it does not involve any aspect of employee discipline.

Williams-Ridley acknowledged that the library administration had hired an outside investigator to examine possible misconduct. The library did that to make it an impartial process, she said. So far, no employee is facing discipline as a result of that investigation, she said.

“The emails all include the statement: “Staff need protection from retaliation, investigations and harassment from managers,” Williams-Ridley wrote the city council.

“The City of Berkeley and the Berkeley Public Library take seriously the legal and contractual rights of our employees. Our MOUs with Unions include negotiated disciplinary procedures that protect the rights of employees. The MOU requires the Library to provide adequate notice of proposed discipline and allows employees the right to representation throughout the process. The MOU also provides a clear process for employees to appeal disciplinary actions at several levels. Discipline appeal procedures are built into the process, including a final appeal to a neutral arbitrator, who issues a binding decision after a full evidentiary hearing where the employee is represented by the Union and Union counsel.”

Library to hire former Albany city manager for top job (11.06.15)
Number of books weeded from library under dispute (09.10.16)
Berkeley Library Director Jeff Scot was ‘not a good fit’ (09.04.15
Jeff Scott resigns as library director (08.31.15)
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)

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...