Before getting on with this response to thinly veiled attacks on our library and recently retired library director, Paula Simpson, contained in letters written by Joy Ogawa and Doug Moran, it’s important to note that The Friends of the Palo Alto Library (FoPAL) is an important, distinguished, and vital organization within the city of Palo Alto, deserving of public support.
FoPAL - at its best - in the past, and currently through it’s many dedicated volunteers, book donors, buyers at book sales, and many of its current board continues to contribute mightily to our library.
That said, the article in last week’s Weekly points out some serious problems with a small group of FoPAL’s board – a portion that has led FoPAL astray to a point where interactions between the library and FoPAL have created friction and dysfunctionality to a degree that would shock FoPAL's membership.
It’s time for some serious reflection and behavior change inside FoPAL’s boardroom, or time for a wholesale change of those at and near the top of FoPAL's administrative board; they are damaging FoPAL’s mission and image, and sabotaging forward development of our library.
What I find interesting in Doug Moran and Joy Ogawa’s respective letters to the editor in this week’s Palo Alto Weekly – letters written in defense of the small group of Friends members spoken of, above, is that it clearly illustrates Ogawa’s and Moran’s 1) acute misunderstanding of library operations; 2) a continuation of their long-standing and public mean-spiritedness toward now-retired library director, Paula Simpson - they want to level attacks and blame her now, even in her absence; and, 3) a misguided defense of the overstepping and intrusive operational meddling of this small group of FoPAL board members into normal, everyday, library operations. All this is implied in Ogawa's and Moran's letters. In sum, like the small FoPAL group I’m referring to - they want to blame the now-retired library director for inefficiencies mostly brought about by FoPAL’s own meddling. This amounts to the perpetrator blaming the victim' it's unacceptable, and deserves a direct response.
Moran’s and Ogawa’s letters also imply a disturbing _resonance_ with this very small, core group of FoPAL board members (and a few long time FoPAL ex-board members) - in the assumption that they - ordinary citizens - somehow know more about library operations and construction of community surveys than paid professionals, with long experience.
Moran and Ogawa want to point out their brief personal experiences – and their rather skimpy knowledge of library operations – generalizing from that to blame Ms. Simpson and her staff for problems. Is this what “friends” are for?
It’s revealing of Moran's and Ogawa's public, municipal demeanor on this issue that they level these attacks now, as they often have in prior pubic and written statements – knowing full well that Ms. Simpson, and the library staff is not in a position to defend. It's easy taking potshots at public employees based on innuendo and imagined slights; in this Mr. Moran and Ms. Ogawa seem to delight.
Mr. Moran, who has had aspirations in the past for for making a run at City Council should know better. He should know that getting balanced information from _both_ parties would be helpful before weighing in with the kind of irresponsible and inaccurate judgments that he throws around in public, and in the newspaper – no doubt to earn a “paper trail” helpful in getting his name in front of the public for any future Council run.
I have also heard Ms, Ogawa speak in public on this issue; she consistently condescended to library staff and Ms. Simpson – as she does now. Ms. Ogawa, I would like to know what “special sauce” you’re consuming – the one that makes you think you know more about library operations than its own staff, and to make generalized judgments from small examples. Our library runs just fine without your presumed "all-knowing" advice.
Perhaps it would be more instructive of Moran’s and Ogawa’s time to speak in depth with library staff members and others who have been too-long harassed by an incessant operational meddling coming from the very small group of FoPAL board members in question. Perhaps they should have more than one or twofacts in hand before making general condemnations.
The Weekly article rightly raised the big questions: Is this small group of FoPAL board members using the dollars they raise from well-meaning citizens to leverage their way into key decisions made by library staff, or using the well-deserved reputation that FoPAL has gained over the years to pressure City Council into submission by threatening to withhold endorsement of revenue bond and tax measures at the polls, unless they get their way with the library?
I think our community – including book donors, and the well-meaning volunteers that staff FoPAL deserve to know what’s been going on.
Our City Council will hopefully look into creating policy that keeps small funding groups with operational agendas at arm’s length from staff – i.e. create healthy boundaries by insisting that contribution come to the library in general categories only, such as “furnishings”, “technology”, “programs”, “collections”, etc. – with detailed deployment and dispersal managed and accounted for by the paid library professions that serve us so well. We need to put an end to the current regime of inefficient micromanagement by the group under discussion.
Another thing that can be done is for FoPAL’s membership to place some limits on the excessive and meddling behavior committed by the small group of its board members under discussion, as hinted at in the Weekly article.
Either the current core group of FoPAL’s board needs to make a change in its behavior, or it needs to be replaced by the membership.
Our community, library patrons, library staff, FoPAL’s well-earned tradition as a valuable community resource, and FoPAL’s dedicated cadre of volunteers and citizen donor/buyers deserve no less than the changes suggested above. From there, let’s move our library forward- together - to sustainability, as it furthers its mandate to delight patrons with all that a library can be.