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Community pundits get it wrong on the library – again!

Original post made by Sanford Forte, Evergreen Park, on Jul 14, 2006

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.

Comments (4)

Posted by Quote from University South News Bulletin July 14
a resident of University South
on Jul 14, 2006 at 10:49 pm

Strange Developments surrounding Libraries

The Weekly had a very provocative story featured on page 1,
July 5th, entitled "Friends or Foes?" The use of
the word foe in connection with Friends of the Library
(and other Friends organizations) got my attention.
If the newspaper's intention was to create controversy and increase
readership, they may succeed. I think it was a cheap shot,
but it is resonating, including my reactions here.

The Weekly wondered whether Friends organizations have too much
influence on the libraries. Aside from the humorous aspects
of the charge, I don't recall any Weekly story on whether the
developers have undue influence on the Planning Department.
And what about those soccer players? Do they have too much influence?
after all, we are spending huge sums to benefit them.

Yes, it's a real problem when citizens try to influence their government.
Shocking, in fact! And those hundreds of library lovers who work without
pay or glory to raise money for the libraries, now they're a real threat.

At least that's the way Sanford Forte, a library commissioner,
sees it. Forte has unleashed a series of rants that are unprecedented.
Accusatory, emotional, and inappropriate. He laments the
departure of the library director and is lashing out. I think his behavior is
bringing the LAC into further disrepute, expressing his prejudices supposedly as
a private individual, in public. Lenore Jones, another commissioner,
has written agreeing with him. His First Amendment rights are unquestioned.
His judgement, however, is.

Forte thinks people should follow the city staff's lead; they should get with the program.
His almost religious regard for the "professional staff" is naive and unquestioning
--and laughable to an educated audience. As though government officials always
do the right thing. People are encouraged to question their doctors and their
government. And well they should.

Odd timing

What seems odd to me in the timing of the story is that just this
week there have been several positive developments on the library front.
The library director who evoked so much distrust has left, the acting director
is moving things along nicely, and the next director will learn from earlier mistakes.
The move of staff into the Downtown branch is going to happen next week,
and while we are unhappy about it, we are adjusting to the disappointment.
Maybe we will think of ways to create a positive outcome. (ideas welcome)
At least that's what I'm thinking about.

This Monday the Assistant City Manager proposed and the City Council
decided to look into technological improvements for the library, ideas
that have been suggested by the Friends. (Thank you, Emily Harrison!)
Some councilmembers hadn't heard of Link+. *
The library commission has not been doing its job there.

Everyone says we need to work together or a ballot measure won't succeed.
With so many positive things happening, why did the Weekly decide to stir up animosities?
* My own colloquial description of Link+ is that it's like InterLibrary Loan on steroids.

Posted by Sanford Forte
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 14, 2006 at 11:54 pm

It's revealing - even amusing - to see you_anonymously_ plant your rant in this forum, contradicting your own words in a very hypocritical way. In fact, your timourous attempt at anonymity far reduces your credibility, and the veracity of your statements.

That said, the Weekly has done this community a favor with its article on the problems at FoPAL. Your statement to the contrary illustrates a stunning naivete on the library issue.

Incidentally, library volunteers _ARE_ valuable and necessary contributors to our library, and community; that's been clearly stated. In fact, FoPAL is a valuable institution; that's also been stated.

The beef is with those _few_ individuals on the board at FoPAL who use the trust given to them by those well-meaning volunteers to extract micromanaged operational control from our library, upsetting the balance of operations, and meddling in a way that threatens the forward sustainability of the institution.

Perhaps you're one of those persons, or closely aligned to one of those persons?

Incidentally, you illustrate profound ignorance of Links+by calling it "Interlibrary loan on steroids". It's FAR from that at this point, yet is being touted by many of the people in question at FoPAL - **contrary to library staff and LAC advice** - as _the_ answer to increasing our collections in Palo Alto. That this has even been considered shows a stunning lack of undertanding of Links+ technology, and resources.

Libraries that use Links+ only realize of tiny (smaller than tiny) fraction of their circulation from Links+. Ask around, and learn a thing or two.

Incidently, from this point on, I will answer only those posters who have the courage, and integrity, to identify themselves. Temerity in a forum like this is, shall we say. lily-livered and hardly worth a response.

This post is my first and only exception to that rule because it gave me an opportunity to educate you - and those naive enough to agree with you - on library issues.

Thanks again for that opportunity!

Posted by Elaine Meyer
a resident of University South
on Jul 15, 2006 at 1:41 am

I did not post the excerpt from my email newsletter. I write openly and under my own name. Hundreds of people receive copies of my email, and apparently someone thought it worthy of posting an excerpt here. I will gladly email a copy to anyone, please write to me at [email protected]

Please do not accuse me of behavior that comes out of your over-active imagination. You have been accusing and insulting many really fine people of all manner of things.
I have never claimed to be an expert on library administration, but my impression of FOPAL people is that many of them ARE experts and they have earned the respect of the community. Your insults of them are hurtful and unwarranted.

Elaine Meyer

PS Thank you for your attempt to educate me. Let me return the favor:
It isn't called Links+

Posted by Sanford Forte
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 15, 2006 at 3:18 am

Your passive-aggressive defense of intractable and hurtful behavior - directed at defenseless library staff, and others - of a few of your zealot friends within the FoPAL administration, including your attempt to project that behavior in other directions is regrettable. You're not as all-knowing on this issue as you appear to think, or write.

In fact, your name has _not_ been brought up in this forum, or on this thread. Thus, perhaps it is _your_ imagination that is overactive?

I've been pointing out facts; facts that can be substantiated. And you?

It's time that bad bahavior from otherwise good people is outed, so that they can be motivated to change - or replaced - and our library enabled to move forward.

I do not want to see the next library director and library staff suffer though what I have recently witnessed. Behavior that can be corroborated by many people.

There's nothing like a little sunshine to get that ball rolling, and deserved taut responses to those who fancy themselves the lords and guardians of Palo Alto politics, speaking from on high.

btw, thanks for coming out of the closet, and no matter the spelling, your newsletter analysis of "Links+" is FAR from accurate. Perhaps a visit or call to the Mt. View library and others will enlighten you on that issue, or give me a call.

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