Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

The Land of 10,000 Leaks

Supposedly, libraries are all about intellectual freedom. I hear the ALA even has a whole office dedicated to it. Apparently some librarians don’t like it, at least as it applies to their employees.

A Kind Reader sent in this story about a library in Minnesota. The headline says it all, or at least most of it: “Investigation fails to find who sent flier criticizing Great River Regional Library.”

Come to think of it, the headline really doesn’t say it all, so let’s spell it out. Someone distributed fliers in the St. Cloud Public Library. “The flier from “Suzy Citizen” criticized management decisions and encouraged library patrons to contact the board of trustees about restructuring within the organization. It was also emailed to board members.”

So it wasn’t a flier criticizing the library at all, but the library managers. What can we tell about the management situation just by this flier?

First, someone, probably an employee, is unhappy with the management decisions. Possibly several someones if someone has gone to this much trouble.

That’s not a big deal. Lots of librarians are unhappy. However, this person so distrusted the library management that he or she did the whole thing secretly.

The first thing the management did was acknowledge the need for dialogue and attempt to build consensus about possible changes.

No, I’m kidding of course. The first thing the management did was hire a lawyer for $140/hour to interview employees and have a forensics review on 15 library computers to try to figure out who did it. That’s one way to alienate the librarians.

Alas, to no avail. The conclusion is that we just can’t know the real identity of Suzy Citizen, and the “culprit” guilty of distributing fliers (gasp!) is still at large.

Suzy Citizen is “probably” an employee, but we can’t be sure.

The lawyer also says that “Distributing the flier violates several Great River policies,” but the story doesn’t say what those policies might be.

Does the library system have a rule against anyone distributing fliers? If so, is that a common rule? I’m not a distributing fliers kind of person, so I wouldn’t know. But I’m pretty sure a public library is public space, and people can distribute fliers in public spaces.

Or is it that there’s a policy against employees distributing fliers, and if the person was an employee…no, that doesn’t make any more sense.

Maybe there’s a policy against librarians speaking in public about the library. That wouldn’t surprise me at all, since I know there are such policies out there.

However, the fact that such policies exist in libraries doesn’t make them any less anti-library.

The union rep seems to be the only one who believes in intellectual freedom in this situation. She says “has said there is no conclusive proof that a Great River employee wrote or distributed the flier,” and “also maintains that the information in it was not confidential and whomever the author is, he or she has a First Amendment right to publish it.”

You’d expect language like that to come from the librarians, but as with so many leaking scandals like this, instead of addressing the issues in the leaks, the first priority is to find and presumably punish the leaker.

It works for the government, so why not the library?



  1. It seems to me that this isn’t newsworthy because it isn’t an anomaly – I’m sure there are many librarians out there, myself included, who get tired of patron complaints about things that are out of our control (everything from the library’s hours to the building temperature to reduced services because of budget cuts) and tell them to take their complaints higher up. In my experience management and trustees don’t always listen to complaints when they are relayed by librarians, but may be more inclined to listen when they come directly from patrons. If every library hired a lawyer every time a librarian told a patron that they agreed with a problem and advised the patron to take it up with the board, we could support a whole discipline of library lawyers.

    Too bad for Suzy that her management is bad enough that she feels she has to refer patrons anonymously.

  2. Every industry suffers from inept managers but libraries seem to be especially susceptible. I think it’s because what it takes to be a good librarian doesn’t always make a good manager. However, when it comes to promotions, tenure and skill as a librarian is typically what is evaluated.

    It cuts both ways too. Sometimes you have great librarians who are poor managers, sometimes you have bureaucrats who haven’t been an actual librarian for so long they’ve lost sight of what their employees deal with on a day to day basis. It’s had to find a good balance.

  3. The real question to me was whether the flier actually contained confidential information that was supposed to be protected under statute. If yes, there was reason to investigate. If not, not so much. And although the facts would be “more likely” to be known by staff, if it could be known by others, they cannot assume it’s a staff member.

    As to the distribution of the fliers — a library is a public forum. Are other groups allowed to distribute fliers, or is that against policy? If against policy, it should be treated like any other group. Once you open your meeting rooms and your bulletin boards, you have to keep them open for all, even if “Surf Nazis Against the Library” want to use them.

  4. California Librarian says:

    In my library system there were several articles in the paper about a scandal at one of the branches involving the FOL and a piece of art they took from the branch. Administration became super sensitive about bad publicity and told everyone (clerks, library assistants, librarians) not to speak of the library or its business to ANYONE – friends, neighbors, media, etc. Quite lame if you ask me.

  5. Remember the main point the library system would not be there if not for the individual libraries and when management “forgets” that and starts treating the librarians like second class citizens that are not entitled to information about their libraries, they will get upset. When management gets continued increases for doing good at their job but librarians do not, even though they continue to improve their libraries and excel at their jobs, what does management expect! When management starts treating the librarians right, you won’t see these kind of problems.

  6. The article ends saying that no bodies were discovered so everyone can move on. Sadly, I’d bet that’s exactly what will occur. Policies put in place, but no attention to the resolution of complaints.

    And, I vote for honoring anonymity. Depending on the size of town or city, even regardless of it, enough people recognize a style of writing – his or her “voice – so that the anonymity is but a small comfort to the writer. I have to wonder if Suzy Citizen will ever walk into that library again, and, if a staff member, what hell that would be. Maybe Suzy is connected to someone at the library who is suffering from poor management – someone who is, perhaps, targeted? (By the way, who distributed the flyers within the library?)

    I was recently stonewalled by management, and, as an offshoot, I believe, subjected to treatment that would give the annoyedlibrarian months of fodder – not that there isn’t plenty of it. I addressed what occurred directly, and have had no response from at all. There will be none forthcoming. There are times one wishes one had a ton of money just to send a copy of one’s amended Will, deleting that $100,000 gift to the library. The thing of it is, when dealing with the public, staff never really know just who might be philanthropist. Maybe that scrubby, annoying woman.

  7. Hmmm. Distributing flyers against library management *in the library* is tactically questionable. If Suzy is a library employee, it’s also a little tacky, and an unnecessary risk.

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