Thursday, June 08, 2006

Library Excitement in Atlanta!

There's library excitement in Dixie, and I'm not talking about that cute Ubiquitous Librarian guy (hi, Brian!)!

The Annoyed Librarian works in a very dull library, so it's always exciting to read about other libraries' soap operas. The only excitement we ever get is when a brisk wind flips the assistant director's comb-over.

First comes a letter to the Atlanta Journal & Constitution from a member of the Gwinnet County Library Board reporting on a closed board meeting:

"Dear fellow citizens of Gwinnett County,
It has come to my attention that certain factions intend to take over the management of the Gwinnett Public Library System. Activists led by Phyllis Oxendine, a board member, intend to fire the library's director, Jo Ann Pinder, at the next library board meeting on June 12th at the Five Forks branch. They also intend to fire and replace much of the top staff. Mrs. Oxendine has stated that she and two other board members (a majority) will vote together to dismiss Ms. Pinder without cause."

Then the "certain factions" moved to the web according to this story. The certain factions are watching you, GCPL.

Apparently, the library discards 20% of its books every year and stocks nothing but bestsellers. But no, says the library: "'We have to keep our collection fresh. We are the busiest library in Georgia,” she said. “We are not a traditional old-school library. We give our community best sellers because that’s what they want to checkout.' The classics, she said, are available through e-books and computer downloads and each branch has its own classics collection. "

They're no "old-school" library. If you're an old fuddy duddy and want to read a classic, you'll just have to get a computer and download it! The community only wants to check out bestsellers. Except, I suppose, for that irritating part of the community that wants to fire the director because she stocks only bestsellers.

But wait, is it just the classics? No, it seems that the trouble started when the director sold all of the videos:

"After thieves eventually made off with more than 17,000 DVDs and music CDs, Gwinnett's library board quietly shuts down the 5-year-old program and begins selling off the remaining inventory. Pinder recommends the move."

How do they lose 17,000 DVDs and CDs? That seems like a lot to me. Did some burly guys in a big van just back up to the library and start loading them in?

And who's leading the protesting about the videos and the classics? It's those weird homeshooling people! We don't want to listen to them, the director probably said! But why do they care so much about the videos? Are they classic videos or something? I don't understand. This is such a crazy story, I can't wait for June 12 to find out what happens!

This would make a great murder mystery! I mean, if anyone actually got murdered, which I'm assuming won't happen. It must be so exciting to be a librarian at the GCPL and see all the great publicity your library is getting. It's not like that boring old Monmouth, IL library with its broken sprinkler, that's for sure.

UPDATE: Wow! That board voted to fire the director! And since she was fired without cause, they have to pay her a year's salary of $127,000! How come I can't get fired from jobs like that?


Anonymous said...

Hi. Denise Varenhorst with GCPL Watch here. The reason why we kooky homeschoolers in Gwinnett County cared so much about the DVD/VHS collection is that, among the tens of thousands of "entertainment" titles like Rugrats in Paris, Freaky Friday, and Monster's Inc., there were actually some really wonderful ones like The Williamsburg Collection, Animated Hero Classics, American History for Children, Patriotic Songs and Poems, and more. Of course, most of the good ones were on old beat up VHS with one foot in the dumpster, but we loved and used them anyway.
And yes, there were classics like Born Free, My Friend Flicka, National Velvet and The Sound of Music.
Here is the question I posed to Ms. Pinder about the disposal of the ENTIRE collection, cut and pasted directly from her mail to me:
Question: What was the rationale for rejecting the option of limiting the DVD/video collection to those items with obvious educational content?
Her answer: The goal in purchasing this collection was to add materials that would be popular with young viewers. We did not purchase titles to support an educational curriculum.

Hmmmmm. That answer didn't sit well with me.
Love your website!

AL said...

I think the Annoyed Librarian stepped into a hornet's nest with this one!

Anonymous said...

I may not completely agree with either Pinder nor the GCPL, and I wholeheartedly feel that something else could have been done besides publicly firing the woman during where the community watched. That is just plain cruel.

Wow. If fatwalker was a library director of a library where I work, I would quit and move, far, far away.

Like, to another country.

Isn't a public library "public" property, so to speak?

Was there not a seperation between church and state that the founding forefathers of our country established to ensure the freedom of all persons living in this country?

And also, I work with a librarian who is of hispanic descent, who is not an illegal, and communicates in Spanish to other Spanish-speaking populations that are here legally. Do they give up their choice to read or speak another language if they live in the United States? I would hope not.

Also, I was homeschooled, and my father never expected the local library to provide educational materials for me. If you want the government to give parents funds to educate their kids, put them in public school. Thats what it is for. If you don't agree with what they teach, buy your own damn materials.

Just my two cents.

AL said...

This is a hornet's nest! I don't even care what they do in Georgia! But I would like to respond to a couple of your points because they're thought-provoking.

"Was there not a seperation between church and state that the founding forefathers of our country established to ensure the freedom of all persons living in this country?"

No, there is a clause in the Constitution stating that Congress cannot establish a religion. Nothing about this issue has ANYTHING to do with Congress establishing a religion.

"Do they give up their choice to read or speak another language if they live in the United States? I would hope not."

I would hope not, either. I can't figure out why so many Americans are so opposed to foreign languages.

"If you want the government to give parents funds to educate their kids, put them in public school."

Governments don't give money to people they haven't already taken forcibly from someone else. Another way to look at this is that the government has already taken money from people to provide schools that in many places are bloody awful.

"Thats what it is for. If you don't agree with what they teach, buy your own damn materials."

They've already had to buy the materials they dislike with their taxes. Now they have to buy them again? Is that really fair?

AL said...

"Irate Library Technician" would be a great name for a blog, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Loved your article. If you think the controversy was fun, you would have loved the meeting. Complete with boos, cheers, raucous behavior, mass exodus, sheriff's deputies and icy stares. There were 21 people scheduled to speak in a 30 minute time frame which meant everyone got 90 seconds. If they went over, they were met with loud calls of 'Time! Time! Time!' Plus, there was a line up of media folks, moving their microphones from one side of the table to the other and then waiting like vultures outside after the meeting.

A small clarification on the Spanish material. They are not proposing to get rid of all Spanish language material. Just to move the money earmarked for purchasing bestsellers to purchasing what the Spanish community requested. Which was materials to help them learn English and to help them with their children's education. Personally, I think there should be some money for both since it seems a bit unfair to not allow Spanish residents to read popular books. But, the materials the community requested should definitely take precedence.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm going to take a small stab at explaining what just happened in Gwinnett.
First of all, Fatwalker, you are very funny, really! And you’re a good writer too, but I must clear up your misconceptions.
1. My kids love Harry Potter and own all the books, costumes, and accessories (including Hedwig)
2. Oh, stop yourself! The Lord’s work and such…har har.
3. I love foreign languages, have urged the library to buy more books in other languages...well...okay, I admit it...I asked for books in Latin...but I speak a good deal of Spanish and I've begged the library to purchase some kind of Spanish language program so that I can teach my kids more Spanish than I know, but apparently, that constituted "curriculum" of some kind, so the answer was "no!" Of course I want Spanish speaker/readers to have books in Spanish. What nut wouldn't? Ms. Craft simply questioned the purchase of erotic romances printed in Spanish when the Hispanic population specifically asked for educational materials printed in Spanish. Is that so crazy?
Onto the larger point; the firing of Ms. Pinder. It could have been done privately if her sole advocate on the board, Mr. Taylor, hadn't gone public and blown any chance for the board to approach her with a private opportunity to resign, so the board was left with the hand they were dealt.
Now for the reason: When a library director offends, insults, and disrespects so many people in the community over so long a period of time that finally, these individuals, each willing to spend their personal spare time working to remove the director; coalesce and combine force in protest, you have a phenomenon known as the tipping point. June 12th, 2006 was the tipping point for the citizens of Gwinnett County.
The only thing this ragtag group of genealogy lovers, family friendly library folks, homeschoolers, former staff members, historians, former Friends of the Gwinnett Library volunteers, and library board members have in common is the deplorable treatment we all received from Ms. Pinder. That, and nothing else, was her undoing.
Love the Annoyed Librarian website- it’s just hilarious! Thanks for keeping me in stitches (the funny kind only please).

Anonymous said...

I am about as far from a fundie as you can get. I read the articles in the Atlanta paper. I was particularly offended by the notion that GCPL Watch's stated objective of harmonizing the library with "conservative values. So I went to their website. The conservative values comment was explained to my satisfaction. Frankly, what they say makes a lot of sense.

I found this site and have read much of the material relating to my own Gwinnett County Library. Between the two, I am much better informed about the issues underlying the controversy.

In criticizing the "bestseller" approach, many people miss the point: a "public library" exists to serve the public. Conversely, if the public doesn't support the library, there won't be much of a library. But as in all things, balance is necessary for it to work well.

I have used the interlibrary loan feature, and was delighted with how easy it was to use. I have also been impressed with how library materials move throughout the system.

However, I fail to see the problem with stocking educational programs or material.

All the vitriol misses the one vital point: This is a valuable opportunity to have a public dialoge on the role of the public library, and to determine the direction of one community's public library.

So all you snipers, from both sides: put down your weapons!
This is the time to articulate YOUR vision of what a public library should be, who it should serve, and with what materials. So start thinking.

Anonymous said...

Great advice, Beth. One of the things that would serve all of us well would be a good public survey of what the taxpayers and library patrons want in the library. For now though, if you want to make your voice heard: attend the board meetings, speak politely, and leave the vitirol and hysteria at the door.

Anonymous said...

A lesson in logic and critical thinking:

Because the library Executive Director is a public employee, in GA the board was required by law to vote in public to dismiss her. Reference O.C.G.A. § 50-14-3(6). Had a certain board member not gone public, I suppose it was at the board’s discretion to give Pinder the opportunity to resign in private. Would she have taken it? Word on the street is Pinder was aware of the letter to the press prior to its release and was supportive of it. If this is true, it means Pinder had a hand in her, to quote her lawyer as reported in the local papers, “public humiliation.” I suppose at some point one has to take responsibility for one’s role in public affairs; however, I also suppose if responsibility were taken for one’s role in public affairs this would be less of a debate in the first place. I am not apt to believe this was a plan to publicly humiliate her but to follow the law. I suppose only those who care to actually research the law would know this. I suppose if research were more popular in Gwinnett County this would be more widely known. On the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt if a certain local paper by the same name as the city chose to point out this little fact of law rather than simply supporting the idea that something inproper had occurred.

Fact is, there were 21 speakers the night Pinder was fired. Media erroneously reported the vast majority of them spoke on behalf of Pinder. Wrong-o. Ten spoke out against the current library policies and Pinder; 11 spoke for her. Now I’m a bookworm, not a numbers-cruncher, but I’ll take a leap into the world of statistics and hazard to say “vast majority” isn’t winning by one vote. Pinder’s supporters were punctual, and therefore got the good seats. Once the vote was passed, the red sea split. Ah, but those white shirts waiting in the hallway were more than happy to fill the empty seats in their stead, and fill them, they did. I admit I didn’t take a head count, but it would be a gross inaccuracy to claim red shirt “vastly outnumbered” the white shirts. Unless one chooses to redefine “vast.” In the meantime, intelligent readers will simply note bias is one of the main components of inaccurate statistics.

Of particular amusement was the patron who admonished the board for wanting to oust the director of a public library whose information desk was more capable of doing research on historical stock prices than the investment company with whom they do business. There’s some speculation GCPL has experience, at least on the sidelines, with investments of a sort, so maybe that’s why they’re rather schooled in the subject. Nonetheless, whatever may be the reason their information desk happens to be adept at finding >egads< information, I wonder how this particular patron would feel to know the upcoming strategic plan, zealously researched with the assistance of a fatly paid consultant, determined statistics show patrons feel they can find information themselves on the internet. (Noticing a pattern yet?) Consequently, GCPL administration advised to scale back this service in the coming years. Afterall, everyone knows what you read on the internet is absolutely, always complete and true. The wave of the future is to get rid of all those pesky, know-it-all librarians who support continuing education and replace them with the internet. Hooray to GCPL for taking this library into the 21st century! Oh wait, will it be filtered?

Here I extend a cyber handshake to the Annoyed Librarian for recognizing that homeschoolers actually fund public education despite their choice not to utilize it. Is it so wrong then that they respectfully request a handful of books be stocked at their public library which might benefit themselves and…others? I don’t think eight copies of the Redneck Dictionary was what they had in mind when they asked for more reference books. Then again, maybe GCPL wants to be a “redneck” library, by Foxworthy’s definition, representing “a glorious absence of sophistication.” No one asked for curriculum, though some other libraries happily supply even these resources because lo and behold, public school parents buy workbooks and curriculum books, too. Doubters should check the educational section of their local book store, with whom GCPL is definitively not in competition. For one thing, my local Borders stocks a such wildly unpopular (according to GCPL statistics), intellectual genres as philosophy, logic, critical thinking, history, science, genealogy, and continuing education topics. The biggest jest, perhaps, is the fact that these homeschoolers are paying taxes for public schools they choose not to use (and therefore relinquish all rights to use), taxes for public libraries (who refuse to support them in any realistically proactive fashion), and then when they voluntarily suggest spending more of their hard-earned money to donate books popular among homeschoolers they are told, as if this were an Alice in Wonderland tea party, “No room!” Well, I say there is plenty of room. For starters, there’s not a single book to be found on the top or bottom shelves of any library branch bookshelf. If all the homeschoolers promised to bend over a little further, would they finally get what they deserve?

Maybe if the library stocked a copy of Munro Leaf’s How to Behave and Why, their Executive Director wouldn’t be caught in the news not using her “inside voice” with patrons. Maybe if their Materials Management Department realized Archimedes and the Door to Science (Living History Library) wasn’t actually “an outdated science book” patrons would be less frustrated. [Note to those on the outside: upon original request, this title was turned down because it was published in 1995 and this was the actual reason given.]

Alternatively, I suggest GCPL’s own, actually stocked, copy of Customer Service Excellence: A Concise Guide for Librarians be required reading for the administration. Preferrably, before it’s weeded.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, "Anonymous @ 3:21", it must be such a burden to be so smart. You know the deal was sealed in a private, illegal meeting. P.O. stated several times that "we've got the votes and are going to do this." Now that's great management technique - fire a top-notch executive without any counselling and opportunity to improve. BTW, why would she resign? Fired w/o cause = $127K vs. quit and get nothing. Where's the logic and critical reasoning there?

Anonymous said...

"This would make a great murder mystery! I mean, if anyone actually got murdered, which I'm assuming won't happen. It must be so exciting to be a librarian at the GCPL and see all the great publicity your library is getting. It's not like that boring old Monmouth, IL library with its broken sprinkler, that's for sure."

It's unfortunate that you make this comparison in connection with the Warren County Public Library. A beloved librarian there (actually my childhood librarian) was in fact brutally murdered.

Anonymous said...

Eek! I’m sorry to hear about Monmouth’s librarian.

"To be so smart..."
[insert sarcastic tone] A burden it is, but somebody's got to do it.
On the contrary, I have no inside information that the "deal was sealed" prior to the meeting, much less in an "illegal, private meeting." I’m most curious to hear why “Anon @ 9:07” believes they are privy to my personal thoughts. Are you a member of the Thought Police, perhaps? I am not aware any such meeting took place but will note how quick those red shirts are to make accusations. Surely, "Anon @ 9:07" does not wish to make false or slanderous accusations, so I anxiously await supporting evidence that said meeting took place. I'm open to examining evidence - you can still sway me. I will point out nothing bars one board member from speaking to another, and then another, and then #2 & #3 speaking to each other. They just can’t all three meet to discuss library topics. I suppose, however, they could all meet for lunch to discuss the weather. While you figure that out, I'll mention I’m intrigued by some of the other questions I've read about and wish to hear if they will be further explored. I sincerely hope there was nothing improper on the part of the former Executive Director. It would be very disheartening to find the public's trust broken.

Would Pinder have resigned? I speculate "Anon @ 9:07" is correct - given the choice myself, it would be a toss up between my dignity/integrity and $127K. I suspect I'm a different sort of person, so my personal choice would likely be different. In the end, it doesn't matter though. Fact remains one can make such inflammatory statements as the board "planned" to humiliate her by firing her in public, but let's suppose for a moment they'd spent the last year counseling her to no avail. She'd still have been faced with the same choice...or maybe not...maybe they would have chosen to fire her with cause. That certainly would not have been in her best interest. Don't be fooled into believing there was no opportunity for change, however. As an example, it is my understanding the board wished to change the policy for public speakers but was met with disapproval and strong resistance from whom? Pinder. Subsequently, they backed off and ultimately took the heat for following her advice. Is that fair? I thought it was her place to advise them.

To fellow librarian: you are correct. Libraries exist to serve their communities. One could safely assume this would start with an objective community survey, something I understand many interest groups have requested without success. I agree a Spanish speaking community should have books in Spanish. I also think their opinion about what kind of books should be honored. (This assumes the opinions of other interest groups are also being honored – after all, if no one cares about the genealogist, the homeschoolers, the test-takers, etc. why should the Hispanic interest group be treated differently?) According to everything I’ve heard, they’ve not taken a critical look at their demographics. Reportedly, 15% of Gwinnett County residents are Hispanic (let's assume they are legal residents for argument's sake, shall we?). Let’s further assume they all actually speak Spanish. To what degree should a public library stock Spanish language books with such demographics? I have no answer for this question, but think it should be explored. One could, in fact, make the case that perhaps as much as 15% of the collection should be in Spanish...probably not the wisest solution, but at least it's a place to start. The next logical question would be how many of that 15% are library users? Why or why not? The last GCPL community survey was an exit survey, so it failed to address why some residents don't use the library, despite the GCPL stat that only 28% of residents actually use the library. And among those who use the library, how much do they use it? If only 2% of the Hispanic population use the library is it for lack of Spanish language materials? Is it due to lack of educational materials or Spanish speaking staff? It would be helpful to know, regardless of the ultimate use of such information. Additionally, the average annual checkout rate for GCPL patrons is 33. What is the checkout rate among Hispanics? More? Less? Why? These are, I believe the kind of serious, objective questions that need to be asked.
Alternatively, how often is that same annual checkout rate of 33 the average checkout rate for a single checkout among homeschoolers? How should this affect the strength of their influence on the library collection?
Is GCPL going to give a louder voice to those patrons who use the library more? Should they? Is GCPL going to make an honest effort toward discovering who those user groups are and why? Don't they care why other groups avoid the library or use it less? If they don't ask the questions, if they refuse to ask, is it fair to conclude they don’t really care?

Whose place has it been to ask those questions? I believe it was in the hands of the Executive Director.

Oh, oh, oh - to be Christian or perfect. Sadly, I am neither, so I’ll curtail my response and simply point out that Christians aren’t the only ones who get a “bad rap” for passing judgments. Then again, every now and then some has to make a judgment call or we’ll never move society forward, will we? Invariably, every judgment call will be examined from ten different viewpoints. I think that’s a healthy thing, don’t you?

Anonymous said...

We don't know what sort of resignation deal she would have been offered. It might have included the $127K. Executive contracts sometimes provide this anyway.

SafeLibraries® said...

This AL blog post (posted by AL at 11:43 AM on Jun 8, 2006) was just linked from a Library Journal article!

"Critic of Gwinnett Library Joins Board," by Norman Oder, Library Journal, 27 August 2008.