Heidi Dolamore at the library. Alan Bern, a librarian, is on the right. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Just five months after the City Council forced out two members of the Board of Library Trustees, exacerbating the turmoil at the public library, the director has resigned.

Heidi Dolamore, who has not even been in her position for a year, will step down on Sept. 22, according to a press release sent out by BOLT, the Board of Library Trustees.

No reason was given for Dolamore’s resignation. She did not return Berkeleyside’s request for a comment. Neither did Diane Davenport, the president of BOLT, nor Dee Williams-Ridley, the Berkeley city manager.

Dolamore’s departure makes two library directors in a row who resigned after political turmoil. Jeff Scott also left the executive director position in August 2015, less than a year after taking the post. He was severely criticized by some library unions, staff, and City Council members for overseeing an aggressive book weeding process and then disseminating incorrect information about how many books were being tossed.

When Dolamore took the post as director in September 2016, many community members had high hopes for her. She had extensive experience, most recently as the assistant director of the San Jose Library, had come highly recommended, and was selected by a national search committee. She was paid $180,000 a year.

But she took the helm of a troubled institution, one wracked by a high level of employee dissatisfaction and low morale. Former librarians who had raised the alarm about Scott were also hyper vigilant about her actions.

Many members of SEIU Local 1021 thought the steps Dolamore took to improve morale did not go far enough, according to interviews they gave to Berkeleyside. They felt that she was aloof and did not seek out the opinions of those who worked in the library enough.

But Dolamore did have some staff support, as well as the support of the majority of BOLT. Some of her fans said that SEIU members had been perennially dissatisfied with any library director because they did not like change and wanted to run things themselves.

In March, Berkeleyside ran a story showing that a number of the library staff said their workplace had become a place of discomfort and distrust. Over the previous 18 months – before and after Dolamore’s arrival – the library administration had been conducting a secret investigation into the “whistleblowers,” those who tried to expose the scope of the book-weeding program, staffers said. Dolamore did not stop the investigation, which brought her criticism. The investigation was eventually concluded in the spring with no harsh reprisals and no findings of employee misconduct, but tensions among some staff in the library remained high.

In early April, for the first time in the library’s 100-year history, the City Council used powers it had never exercised before to oust two BOLT members, the president, Julie Holcomb, and Jim Novosel. Six weeks later, Mayor Jesse Arreguín, after voting not to escalate the council’s involvement with BOLT, pushed to appoint a political colleague, John Selawsky, a Rent Board commissioner and former school board member, to the board rather than a lawyer with no political experience who had been recommended.

For many members of the Berkeley Public Library Foundation, an independent non-profit that raises fund for the library, the City Council’s moves were worrisome. Foundations members said that some donors expressed hesitation about contributing. Others in the library community expressed concern that Berkeley would never be able to find a library director in the future.

Others, however, particularly library staff, supported the council’s decision. They had complained that they felt the old BOLT board did not listen to their concerns and could even be rude at times.

The Board of Library Trustees met in closed session in a City Hall meeting room on Aug. 7, presumably to discuss Heidi Dolamore, the library director. From left, Judy Hunt, Abigail Franklin, John Selawsky, City Councilwoman Sophie Hahn, and Assistant City Attorney Kristy van Herick. The BOLT president, Diane Davenport, was absent for the two closed sessions about personnel. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

BOLT held two closed sessions in early August, presumably to discuss Dolamore. While board members could not comment on what took place since it involved personnel, the agenda said the board discussed “public employee discipline/dismissal/release.” The only employee BOLT oversees is the director.

City Councilwoman Sophie Hahn, who sits on BOLT, said in an email Monday evening that Dolamore’s reasons for resigning were not connected to the recent board turnover.

“I have no knowledge that Ms. Dolamore’s resignation is in any way connected to the recent changes at the Board of Library Trustees,” wrote Hahn.

She also said that she had supported Dolamore.

“I had met with Director Dolamore to express my strong support for her and for Deputy (now Acting) Director Elliot Warren, and was looking forward to working with this leadership team.”  

On Monday, Davenport also wished Dolamore well in the press release.

“As President of the Board of Library Trustees, I wish Heidi well as she moves forward in her professional life,” said Davenport.

BOLT will meet Sept. 6 to discuss how to proceed in its search for a new library director. In the meantime, Warren will oversee operations.

Davenport downplayed any reluctance potential directors might have in coming to a system that saw its last two directors resign.

“The Board of Library Trustees knows that the role of Berkeley Library Director is a terrific opportunity to work with innovative staff, with engaged unions, with an involved community, and with very supportive Friends and Foundation groups,” Davenport said in the statement. “We look forward to working with all of these stakeholders as we search for a new Library Director.”

Update Aug. 29: Berkeleyside was able to connect with Davenport on Tuesday morning who said that Dolamore’s departure had nothing to do with the changes in BOLT, nor was it the result of pressure exerted by SEIU Local 1021. Davenport said she could not say anymore since Dolamore’s resignation is a personnel issue.

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 Created California, published in November...