Union members, librarian protest alleged firing of library staff

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Roughly 20 people gathered on the front steps of the Berkeley Public Library on Tuesday afternoon to protest the alleged termination of Berkeley Public Library staff for revealing the extent to which the library had reduced its collections.

Representatives of the union SEIU 1021, workers at the Berkeley Public Library and community members held a “unity break” to criticize the library’s management culture, which they said did not take their opinions into account when making decisions on book collections.

“It’s really hard to speak as clearly as I can and feel like I’m not being heard,” said Andrea Mullarkey, a librarian and shop steward for Local 1021 Community Services Unit, at the meeting.

Librarians and union members at the meeting spoke of a shift in management culture over the last 18 months, with grievances dating back to last summer.

Director of library services Jeff Scott resigned last September amid controversy surrounding the weeding of books at the library, when it was revealed that instead of the 2,200 books previously announced to have been removed from the collection, the library had actually removed more than 39,000 books. A new permanent library director has not yet been found.

A current librarian in the collection development department is under termination proceedings for “insubordination,” said Nathan Dahl, president of the city of Berkeley Community Services Unit for SEIU 1021.

“Our member was trying his best to comply with directives but was also advocating for (the) best service delivery to the public,” Dahl said.

Dahl said the union alleges the termination proceedings are a retaliation against “whistleblowers” who revealed the accurate numbers of books that were being weeded out last summer.

Beth Pollard, interim director of library services for the Berkeley Public Library, said weeding books is a common process at libraries to keep collections current, relevant and in good condition. Pollard added that each branch and department of the library holds monthly meetings and that staff members are encouraged to give their input and suggest titles for the collections.

In May, SEIU 1021 submitted a “Vote of No Confidence” letter against collection services manager Rachel MacNeilly at a board of library trustees meeting, in which it expressed concerns that the process of book selection was taking in less input from librarians. The letter also alleged “acts of retaliation” against library workers who spoke out against “mass weeding.”

“There are so many other people who agree exactly with what we’re saying but are just too scared to speak up,” said Leo Lopez, who works at the library and helped organize the meeting.

Lopez added that there is a “divided” environment at work between management and librarians.

Several librarians at the meeting declined to comment, stating a fear of retaliation.

“One of the core tenets of librarianship is intellectual freedom,” Mullarkey said. “That the people who brought that to light are being punished instead of rewarded is shameful.”

Pollard said the Berkeley Public Library is a complicated organization that balances many different interests.

“The library does a great job in really trying to sort through what all the interests and needs are and serve the patrons of the community,” Pollard said.

Contact Mira Chaplin at [email protected].