In a scene resembling a high school pep rally more than a library board meeting, the Library Board of Trustees Wednesday remained far apart on a new budget and the public feud between some library employees and library director Jackie Griffin remained far from settled.
After repeated complaints that it was stifling the voices of library workers, the board granted employees two minutes apiece Tuesday to share their concerns.
With Board President Laura Anderson reluctant to maintain order, the crowded South Berkeley Senior Center turned into a boisterous peanut gallery. The audience, comprised mostly of library workers opposed to Griffin’s leadership and their community allies, cheered the roughly two dozen speakers that opposed Griffin and booed and hissed at the few workers who stood up to praise her.
When library employee Bob Saunderson credited Griffin for seeking to maximize efficiency and criticized the union for misrepresenting the facts, the boos were so unrelenting that Darryl Moore, the City Council’s representative on the board, asked if anyone had a gavel.
One quickly appeared, but when it was passed to Anderson, the board president, she declined to pick it up and let the boos continue.
Earlier, when library employee Sandra Schmitz credited Griffin for making long-needed technological innovations, a woman in the audience shouted for the board to dump the director, yelling, “Fire her.”
Afterwards, Moore noted the lack of order and said that he had contemplated walking out of the meeting.
The labor management rift at the library erupted after city voters rejected a library tax increase last November. With no new taxes to close what is now estimated as a $1.5 million deficit over the next two years, Griffin in January offered a reorganization plan that would have cost the jobs of about nine staffers, but no managers.
At the same time, the library was moving ahead with a controversial program to install radio devices (RFIDs) on books. Free speech advocates have criticized the devices, which will cost Berkeley $650,000, for potentially violating privacy rights. Meanwhile several employees have fought them on grounds that they are being used to reduce jobs. Griffin’s reorganization plan currently calls for eliminating the equivalent of 4.5 full-time positions.
The issue of technology was paramount at Wednesday’s meeting. Griffin’s supporters praised her for pushing through reforms that allowed customers to reserve books online, allowed librarians to order books electronically and allowed patrons to access to a greater variety of databases.
The director’s opponents questioned if new technologies, especially RFID, would work as promised or make their jobs easier.
Noting a recent computer breakdown at the library that meant some patrons were charged for books returned on time, Librarian Rachel Aronowitz asked, “How can I have faith in RFID?”
Griffin attributed the system breakdown to the library’s inability to fill two technology positions because of a city hiring freeze. She added that she expected to fill the positions when the new fiscal year began in July and add three more over the next two years.
Many of the employees said that a worker shortage had created a backlog of unshelved books and that Griffin was unresponsive to their concerns.
“Things are a disaster,” said Library Aide Aayan Gates-Williams. “There are materials all over the place.”
Claudia Morrow, a children’s librarian, questioned Griffin’s proposal to keep the library’s $150,000-a-year facility manager three years after the central library rehabilitation project has been completed.
“That’s 80 hours a week of library aide work that could turnaround the shelving backlog,” she said. “Thicker layers of unresponsive management are not the answer.”
When pressed on the subject of management jobs by Trustee Therese Powell, Griffin said that to reduce management during the roll-out of RFID and other new programs could put those programs at risk.
With nearly the entire three-hour meeting taken up by public comment, the board had little time to talk about the budget, which must be finalized by the end of June.
Beverly Marshall, the library’s new finance manager, offered some budget numbers, but said she was still working through the “convoluted, not understandable method of accounting from my predecessor.”
The board voted 4-1 to ask the City Council to raise the library tax 4.8 percent, equal to the rise in the Personal Income Growth Index this year. The board’s other option would have been to ask for a 1.56 percent tax increase equal to the rise in the Consumer Price Index. Under city law, the library can ask for the council for tax rates increases based only on those two indicators. Griffin has said the higher tax rate will net the library an extra $300,000 and help it avoid layoffs this year.
Trustee Powell, who cast the lone opposition vote, said that although she wants more funds for the library, she thought the 4.8 percent hike was contrary to the wishes of voters who rejected an increased library tax last year.
The board also agreed to hold a town hall meeting on RFID sometime in June. Although the system is already up and running at the central library, Trustee Ying Lee said she did not think that reconsidering it should be out of the question.
Lee also asked that at its next meeting the board discuss the union’s proposal to bring in a facilitator for negotiations over the reorganization at the library.
“I’m really interested in [that],” she said. “I don’t think the community, staff and management can deal with any more pain than we saw tonight.”›