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Change Isn’t the Problem

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I was a librarian at the Salt Lake City Public Library for almost 15 years [“Library War,” Jan. 13, City Weekly]. There are some things of which I’m quite certain when it comes to the city library and change. For example, Nancy Tessman, while a highly influential leader, was director for 11 years, not forever. Most of the “old guard” worked under previous director Dennis Day, as well as a succession of assistant directors and seem to have managed that change just fine. Moreover, the annual job shuffle known as “Name in the Hat” finds employees swapping jobs across departmental and building lines in droves, a process that effectively institutionalizes “change.”

Format changes, from books to recorded books to ebooks to downloadable audio, for example, are also the norm, and the staff takes them in stride, even embracing a format so new to libraries (zines) that the City Library collection was the first public library collection in the country (if not the world). Not only did the library move from card catalogs through several iterations of electronic and online catalogs, they also moved buildings, which included comprehensive changes in departments and job descriptions and personnel as well as a shift to centralized material selection, a term which might not mean a lot outside the library world but which reflects a huge change in both workflow and culture.

This hard-working, award-winning (2006 Library of the Year) group clearly weathers change on a daily basis. In addition, they contribute to the profession in numerous ways, from presenting at conferences and writing books and articles (often about City Library programs or services), to serving on state, regional and national library organization committees. They teach in graduate-level library science programs and serve as members of celebrated lists like the Best Books for Young Adults, and on prestigious literature award committees (like the Caldecott and the Printz).

To insinuate that this group of dedicated civil servants do what they do for any reason other than passionate dedication is misguided at best, malicious at worst.

I don’t have all the facts about the current situation at the City Library, but that’s exactly the point: Even I—with my experience and knowledge of the organization in question, and with all my instincts and sympathies leaning one way—even I know that I don’t have all the facts. There are at least two sides to this story and both need to be investigated, thoroughly and impartially.

If I can figure this out, why can’t the Library Board, City Council and Mayor Becker?

Julie Bartel
Sandy

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