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:
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.