Annoyed Librarian
Search LibraryJournal.com ....
Subscribe to LJ
Inside Annoyed Librarian

Librarian Unrest in the Beehive State

If you haven’t been following the soap opera that the Salt Lake City Library has become, you should, because it’s a lot of fun, at least if you don’t have to work there.

There were a flurry of news stories last week: one about how the administration was trying to keep staff from using all-staff email to criticize or question the library administration, another about how a former employee who quit because he couldn’t stand the director alleging he was offered a bribe to keep silent about library goings on, and yet another about how the Friends of the Library group that has raised over a million dollars in the past decade may quit raising money for the library because they have no faith in the director either. Plus, you can get an excellent summation right here at the library paper of record.

Obviously something wacky is going on, but from the outside it’s hard to figure out just what, though if the staff are so disgruntled that they gave a vote of no confidence to the director and the director is trying to shush their emails it can’t be good, whatever it is.

One sassy librarian fired out the kind of all-staff email that makes the day of those not at the top. From the first news article:

“Er, apparently ‘free and open access to information’ doesn’t apply to library employees,” wrote Pierce, former leader of a state library association who then was placed on administrative leave and fears she will be fired.

“That this most democratic of sacred institutions — the public library — should feel it necessary to ‘gag’ its staff by limiting their access to ‘the exchange of ideas’ via email is as appalling as it is shameful,” she wrote. “The best way to combat dissent is not to enact policies that provoke it.”

“Incidentally,” Pierce added, “this email was approved by at least two staff members.” Both, several employees say, were summoned to meetings with top management.

So much for intellectual freedom! Or is it? Let’s get back to that, after we discuss the Facebook episode. The LJ article says, “Another employee…was reprimanded for posting a critical comment about the library’s administration on her personal Facebook page. She was told to delete the post.

However, according to someone who commented on that article calling herself “Lucy Archer”, the reprimanded employee:

was reprimanded for violating the library’s Patron Privacy Policy by inappropriately accessing the patron record for another staff member, attempted spying on a fellow employee’s private library record. She was caught because she posted about it on Facebook. Her reprimand was not about Facebook — she was caught violating a core value of librarianship because she posted about her actions. So many of these stories would be less sensational if the journalist cared to dig one layer deeper.

But is this really Lucy Archer, or at least the same Lucy Archer discussed in the first article:

“You can’t communicate. You’re not allowed to dissent,” said longtime substitute librarian Lucy Archer, adding that she was warned not to critique the email rule. “Everybody’s on pins and needles. But what’s interesting is that because of the way they’re handling this by trying to gag people, it’s making people even more vocal.”

As I said, it’s so hard to tell. Is Lucy Archer critical of the administration, but trying to be fair? Or is someone just posting under that name?

Posting a comment critical of your boss on Facebook might be foolish, but not necessarily actionable, but violating patron privacy and posting about it is both.

Also, while the administration does seem intent on shushing criticism rather than addressing it openly, is all-staff email the best way to criticize an unresponsive administration?

I would argue not. The news articles bringing the spotlight onto the library administration and board alone have probably done more than some all-staff emails.

Much better would be to take all the communications telling people not to be critical of the library and make them public. An anonymous source could leak more stuff to the Salt Lake City Tribune, which is obviously eating up the story. That Wikileaks guy the radical librarians like so much should go to Utah!

An administration, bad or otherwise, can control communication within the organization’s own system. Doing that isn’t necessarily restricting intellectual freedom. It might be a dumb idea, and be evidence that an administration’s response to a problem is to cover it up rather than solve it, but that’s the kind of things administrations do.

The obvious recourse is to communicate in other ways. Set up a Facebook page. Have a Twitter revolution. If internal communication and criticism isn’t allowed and the situation is intolerable, then go very public.

In addition to going very public, be very specific and present a lot of evidence, too. That way I can write about it without having to spend so much time trying to figure out who’s right or wrong.

PrintFriendlyEmailTwitterLinkedInGoogle+FacebookShare

Comments

  1. Librariman says:

    Ive seen staff reprimanded for going out together. Our managers decreed that staff should not hang out after hours.

    Anytime we do complain about shady actions or policies or people getting hired ahead of staff without qualifications or experience, we are reminded about “how hard it is to find work these days.”

    • Aaron says:

      I know some case law has been coming out recently showing statements posted to social media critical of your employer is protected speech if it concerns working conditions. Restricting communications between employees about their working conditions is a pretty serious matter in labor law, regardless of “how hard it is to find work these days” it generally isn’t wise for any employer to open themselves to this kind of actionable grievance. An award (beyond unemployment) to keep a person comfortably afloat for quite a while as they look for work isn’t out of the picture.

  2. wow says:

    Wow… a situation almost identical to that described in the post and the comment above happened at the library where I previously worked… goes to show what happens when insecure people are given positions of power. Sad.

  3. Been there, Done that says:

    I worked in what appears to be a similar situation some time ago. There are some real problems in going public.

    Being specific and detailed about what is wrong requires that many staff members be willing to speak up publicly. I may know what’s happening, but I am probably limited in how much I can say. If I’m not directly involved in a problem, any knowledge I have of it is simply hearsay. If I give details, I’m exposing the people involved to potential job action or hostility from administrators. I may decide it’s worth risking my job to make this public, but I can’t make that decision for others.

    It always amazes me that administrators blame lack of staff support on staff resistance to change. In my experience, it’s often resistance to a specific set of changes rather than to change in general. Most of the librarians I’ve worked with are looking for changes that allow us to provide better service.

    Finally, administrators by definition have more power than general staff members. When I questioned requiring staff to do something that seemed to me to be clearly illegal, my former director told me that anyone not mature enough to understand why she was requiring us to do it should look for a job elsewhere. I reported the requirement. It was held to be illegal. I now work in a different library, and she is still the library director. Finding a new library job is difficult. I doubt I’ll ever again risk a job to right a wrong.

    • I Like Books says:

      Speaking of change, it’s become well known by change experts, although not generally by management, that the master plan handed down from above is almost guaranteed to fail. Managers are not as smart as they think they are, and not as able to push things through; “Who’s the boss here?” only goes so far. The changes are better, and they stick, if they derive from letting people at all levels of the organization become involved, experiment, and take risks.

  4. Been there, Done that says:

    I worked in what appears to be a similar situation some time ago. There are some real problems in going public.

    Being specific and detailed about what is wrong requires that many staff members be willing to speak up publicly. I may know what’s happening, but I am probably limited in how much I can say. If I’m not directly involved in a problem, any knowledge I have of it is simply hearsay. If I give details, I’m exposing the people involved to potential job action or hostility from administrators. I may decide it’s worth risking my job to make this public, but I can’t make that decision for others.

    It’s almost funny that administrators always blame lack of staff support on staff resistance to change. In my experience, it’s often resistance to a specific set of changes rather than to change in general. Most of the librarians I’ve worked with are looking for changes that allow us to provide better service.

    Finally, administrators by definition have more power than general staff members. When I questioned requiring staff to do something that seemed to me to be clearly illegal, my former director told me that anyone not mature enough to understand why she was requiring us to do it should look for a job elsewhere. I reported the requirement. It was held to be illegal. I now work in a different library, and she is still the library director. Finding a new library job is difficult. I doubt I’ll ever again risk a job to right a wrong.

  5. Librarian in TX says:

    Annoyed: please look carefully at the screen of comments. Lucy Archer was confirming the time & location of the meeting taking place on Oct. 20 and provided a phone #.

    Posted by Seek Facts on October 19, 2011 03:09:43PM–commented about the Facebook episode.

  6. LibraryGuy says:

    Well,it’s nice to know I don’t work for the only library system that muzzles employees, sends them out on Admin Leave, and tries to wreck their careers.
    A group of us set up a gmail group to share problems. I think the next thing should be a Facebook account.

  7. BeehiveLibrarian says:

    The LJ article says, “Another employee…was reprimanded for posting a critical comment about the library’s administration on her personal Facebook page. She was told to log on to her Facebook page, bring up the questioned post, print out the post, then to delete it.” “However, according to someone who commented on that article calling herself “Lucy Archer”, the reprimanded employee: was reprimanded for violating the library’s Patron Privacy Policy by inappropriately accessing the patron record for another staff member, attempted spying on a fellow employee’s private library record. She was caught because she posted about it on Facebook. Her reprimand was not about Facebook — she was caught violating a core value of librarianship because she posted about her actions.” The most likely person to write this comment is the person who performed the reprimand, the HR manager Shelly Chapman, she requested the above actions, took the copy, and knew the details of the charges. The reprimanded employee was told to not discuss what Chapman had required of her. Elder has resigned but it appears that her “henchman” is still at large to create havoc on staff lives.