Once attention was finally focused on DCPL, it was inevitable that someone would clean house. In the last week, five top-level employees have been let go, ostensibly as a result of restructuring to facilitate the transition for new Library Director Ginnie Cooper, expected to start work on Monday (July 24). Interviews leading to the firings have been conducted by recently hired “transition” manager Larry King â€“ a former DC Control Board associate of Library Trustee President John Hill, with unknown expertise in library arts and sciences. King’s recent round of head-chopping represents a further application of the corporate model favored by the Williams administration.
DC Library Renaissance Project has long held there is a high level of incompetence at DCPL. Therefore, we welcome changes in management. Before endorsing the shakeups, however, we want to acknowledge that a major reason behind DCPL’s poor performance goes beyond personnel to the Board of Library Trustees.
The Trustees, all mayoral appointees, have left DCPL adrift for more than three years. Since the departure of Library Director Molly Raphael in 2003, the Trustees have hired only “interim” directors, thus ensuring there would be no real day-to-day leadership for the large, complex institution that is the DC Public Library. Without a permanent director backed by the Trustees, it is difficult to maintain order, let alone improve a situation. Three years of interim directors is a failure by the Board of Library Trustees to carry out one of its most basic charges.
The decision to terminate employees may have been “authorized” by recently designated Acting Director Ellen Flaherty, as Hill stated to the Washington Post (7/20/06, Metro, page 2), but it came only after King had completed his interviews. Flaherty, temporarily elevated from Director of Human Resources for DCPL, at the same time King came on board, must have had her hands tied before, because the termin-ees were all employees of long standing.
For her sake, we hope Flaherty doesnâ€™t get the axe from the Trustees as most recent interim director Francis Buckley did â€“ by email, no less â€“ after he dutifully represented the Trustees to the public and to City Council on the subject of the abandonment of MLK, the granting to DCPL of independent procurement authority, and other aspects of the Trustees’ transformation plan.
And in fact, we understand that there are no routine personnel reviews conducted, no standard operating procedures in place, and no program plan for DCPL. The development and implementation of such should have mandated by the Trustees in performance of their oversight duties. Direct intervention in the basic running of an institution should not be the purview of its Board of Trustees, but in this case, since they had failed to provide an executive for so many years, the Trustees had little choice but to take on the executive role and order the shake-ups.
After three years, the sudden switch to an action-oriented agenda further traumatizes staff who have been kept in the dark, along with the public, about the future of their library. Staff was not included in the research and writing of the Mayorâ€™s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Libraries draft report. And a 40-point program plan for DCPL is secret to everyone except architect James Polshek, who has been speaking on behalf of the Mayorâ€™s iconic new central library, and who revealed the existence of the plan but none of its content at the June 15 City Council hearing about the Mayorâ€™s legislation to lease the MLK building.
No one would deny that changes needed to be made at DCPL staff-wise, but the Mayor and Trustees should bear in mind that the public holds them responsible for DCPL having devolved to the present deleterious state. The public confidence is not easy to restore. And leaving the public out of all planning, as the Trustees have assiduously and successfully endeavored so far, in spite of repeated criticism, is not the way to earn it back.
Carrying out these firings now leaves the new director without blood on her hands. That is probably a good thing for her and for the future of DCPL. Only time will tell if Cooper is the professional DCPL needs to retrieve it from the wretched state into which it has fallen, and over which the trustees have presided. Incoming Library Director Cooper has a gargantuan job to right this ship, but the cleaning of the Augean stables has been begun by the Trustees.