This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Distrust of Salt Lake City Public Library's leadership, especially Director Beth Elder, is rampant, say some employees.
Library workers are unhappy with a two-month-old management shake-up but "terrified" of "retribution" if they speak, they say. And neither City Hall nor the Library Board seems to care.
That from several library employees who for the first time aired their grievances publicly before the board, whose president applauded the move as "courageous."
"There are actually a lot of people who hope to grow and to move forward with the library in all the ways that Ms. Elder recommends but are afraid to do it due to retaliation or fear," Mary Ryder, a circulation assistant at Sprague Library told the board last month. "There are a lot of people who are terrified."
Minutes of the Feb. 17 meeting, were recently requested and reviewed by The Salt Lake Tribune in anticipation of the board's upcoming vote to extend Elder's contract, which expires at the end of April. The board also meets Thursday, though the reorganization controversy is not on the agenda.
"There's tons of spreadsheets and statistics and sort of plans as to how we're going to move the library into the future, but we're not taking care of the things that are problems now," Ryder continued. "I want to believe the strategic plan. I want to follow whoever will lead us to the end of the earth. I just from my heart don't feel like I can stand behind the current leadership."
Three employees plus a volunteer unloaded at the meeting, saying they were nervous but determined to get the message out. The unusual move follows Elder's January overhaul of management. After all supervisors were forced to reapply for their positions, 18 people kept their jobs, four retired and five were removed from management into "special assignments." Several veterans were shifted to different branches.
Elder defends the move as a means to upgrade library services, remain nimble and to adapt to changing needs and technologies. She told the board in January the change was remarkably smooth. Until now, criticism from the ranks has remained mostly anonymous.
"I know just from people that I work with that they are very concerned about their future," volunteer Wade Jones told the board. "It's their job and their life to work here, but they don't feel that they can approach management."
Paul Musser, who works in the Main Library's children's section, added he was disappointed Mayor Ralph Becker and the City Council who recently passed a joint resolution supporting Elder and the board seemed unwilling to look into the allegations. "I felt as a staff member somewhat betrayed by the fact that these concerns that people were bringing out were so easily brushed aside," he said, calling for staff surveys. "I feel like the board really may not have my best interest. There's not a reward for loyalty. Talk is cheap."
Given a chance to respond, Elder said her goal was to match staff talents to community needs. "We assured all managers that we would have a place for them," she said. "Every single one of them said that they were excited about the opportunity that had been given to them."
A lone objector was quickly moved, Elder said, "and very pleased."
"It was never the intention to have a reduction of force or to force anyone that they have only one choice, one option. Never. In fact we have openings now."
Hugh Gillilan, the board president, said he has not heard of any "retribution," and does not consider it realistic. "I would be very distressed if I thought that any one was retaliated against for saying their piece," he said. "That would be totally contradictory to what we believe in."
Board member Mark Alvarez praised the employees for their "courage," saying it is important not to hide any discontent. Even so, Alvarez said hearing it at a board meeting was a complete surprise.
"It was stunning to me."
The Salt Lake City Library Board will meet 3:30 p.m. Thursday at the Main Library's fifth-floor conference room. As always, the meeting will open with a public-comment session. The board also will meet 3:30 p.m. April 21 in downtown's Main branch where a vote is expected on whether to extend Director Beth Elder's contract for one year. Elder's existing contract expires at the end of April.