Berkeley Public Library board chooses new director of library services

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Berkeley Public Library’s Board of Library Trustees selected Heidi Dolamore as the new director of library services, filling a roughly three-month vacant seat that has been shrouded in community outcry.

While the decision will be further discussed and voted on by the board Sept. 7, some librarians are frustrated over the lack of transparency regarding Dolamore’s upcoming appointment. Dolamore serves as the assistant director of the San Jose Public Library and has experience working in youth services at the San Mateo County Library and managing at the Contra Costa County Library.

“The process this time has been significantly different than previous rounds,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “(There’s a) lot less communication and input from the public, but I think Heidi is — for people in the library circle — a very positively regarded librarian.”

If approved, Dolamore will begin as the director effective Sept. 30 and would be paid an annual salary of $180,000.

Dolamore will replace Beth Pollard, who left the library in June after serving for 10 months. Pollard acted as interim director after former director Jeff Scott stepped down following a series of controversies related to an alleged staff firing and massive book weeding.

In past appointments of library directors, the library staff were actively involved in meeting and choosing the candidate, according to Lisa Hesselgesser, a librarian at Berkeley Public Library for 15 years. For Dolamore’s selection, however, Hesselgesser said staff had no role in the process: The new director was chosen by the board and a panel of community stakeholders with the help of a search firm.

Several current and former library staff members see this prevention of staff involvement as reflective of past issues and indicative of a growing divide between the staff and management.

According to Hesselgesser, the discrepancy began with the removal of more than 39,000 books last summer — a policy that staff members were not consulted on or a part of. Pat Mullan, a former supervisor for 25 years in the library, said that previous and current staff members believe that the purpose of the policy was to increase the power of the library’s management and the commercialization of the library. The weeding, Hesselgesser said, was also an effort to reduce the staff workload to encourage employees to further community outreach and development.

Tensions between the staff and the management were exacerbated about a year ago when library staff revealed that the number of books actually removed was more than 17 times larger than the number first announced, and the books were being thrown out rather than donated as per tradition.

“(This policy is) mainly based on a business model rather than a library community model … usually when there’s not enough funding and space,” Mullan said. “But Berkeley Public Library has enough money and space.”

The library’s books, Mullan said, were seen as a ‘destination collection’ and a large part of the library’s prestige. Since the weeding, Mullan said she has not seen a considerable increase in outreach and development, adding that the library had previously run many events such as an annual jazz festival, readings and author lectures.

According to retired librarian Andrea Segall, several library staff members who spoke out about the book weeding are currently being investigated by an outside firm contracted by the city attorney for disciplinary hearings. One staff member who spoke out will face a final hearing Friday, according to Worthington, and faces possible termination.

Despite past disputes, staff and community members remain hopeful about the appointment of Dolamore as new director, seeing it as a chance to improve communication between the management, board, staff and union, while also improving the library’s credibility.

“Our selection process has been inclusive, thorough and professional, and I am confident of an excellent outcome,” said Julie Holcomb, president of the board, in an email statement.

Lillian Dong covers business and economy. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ldong97.