Whistleblowers protest Board of Library Trustees, alleging ‘deep weeding,’ harassment

Ani Vahradyan/Staff

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The Berkeley Librarian Whistleblowers, a city advocacy group, rallied in protest of the Board of Library Trustees’ bookkeeping practices and staff relations Wednesday afternoon.

About 30 people attended the rally outside Berkeley Public Library, and stayed despite intermittent rain. The whistleblowers protested to remove and replace President Julie Holcomb and Vice President Jim Novosel of the Board of Library Trustees, or BOLT, alleging that the two are responsible for “deep weeding” of book collections, ignoring staff and harassing employees.

Berkeley City Council is set to vote on a proposal to remove Holcomb and Novosel on April 4.

The group, led by former Berkeley Public Library art and music director Debbie Carton, began by blowing whistles in unison and chanting, “Whistleblowers need your help, recall now! Your collection needs protection, recall now!”

The book “weedings” started in late 2015 and sparked concern when 39,000 books were purged from the library’s collection. Holcomb said many of the books the library removed were outdated editions of academic texts.

Novosel said he thought the whistleblowers’ requests to have the board members resign were “immature.” Holcomb said in an email that similar protests have been occurring for more than a decade, featuring many of the same participants as in the Library Whistleblowers.

“The success of this group would be a catastrophe for the Berkeley Public Library,” Holcomb said in an email. “I am not excusing any mistakes that may have been made by any previous Director, but it’s hard to expect someone to react perfectly to the barrage of personal attacks to which they were subjected.”

The rally was joined by City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who is one of four council members dedicated to the Librarian Whistleblowers’ cause. Worthington said BOLT created ineffective policies and that he admired the work of the whistleblowers.

Terry Taplin, an intern who first got Worthington involved with the whistleblowers, said his first memories were with his mom at a library, and added that the amount of books being taken out of circulation would negatively impact students.

Pat Mullan, who formerly ran Berkeley Library’s art and music room, said despite the former director of BOLT resigning under pressure after the 2015 book “weedings,” no policies had changed.

“All librarians have weeding in their DNA,” Mullan said of the book purgings. “The problem here was volume.”

Tom Dufour, another Berkeley public librarian, said libraries are cities in themselves, with many working parts. He added that the board members have no experience working in libraries and are no help to staff.  

To address the concerns of the Librarian Whistleblowers, Novosel is helping to form a committee composed of two library administrators, two BOLT members and two staff members to combat morale problems.

Contact Ani Vahradyan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anivahrad.