This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
You can tell a lot about what's wrong with any organization by reading the want ad for a new boss. Whatever qualifications are stressed in that posting are likely the characteristics that were found to be the most wanting in the previous incumbent.
The search for a new director for the Salt Lake City Library system should include a plea for someone who can lead, rather than command, and earn, rather than demand, the respect and the necessary buy-in from the library's staff, volunteers and supporters.
A lack of such abilities was, from all accounts, the downfall of the library's last director, Beth Elder. She resigned Friday, effective immediately, after months of friction with staff members, some members of the Library Board and, most troubling, the Friends of the Library.
Nobody questioned Elder's education or resume. No one said she didn't care about the library or its mission. But the never-ending drumbeat from staff members and others, which seemed to get louder with every passing week, was that Elder's style of top-down management, her alleged inability to brook dissent, her apparent habit of answering all criticisms with the implausible excuse that her own staff was just "resistant to change," built up such a momentum that, in the end, even Elder saw that it was futile to continue.
This is a sad story with no real winners. But not without lessons to be learned.
A public library, ours or anyone else's, must be a warm and inviting place, not only to visit, but to work. Such institutions are grounded on the most democratic of principles. They are based on the belief that information, knowledge and enlightenment are both the right and the necessary stepping stone for all people, regardless of station or ability to pay.
They trace their history to Benjamin Franklin's patronage and Andrew Carnegie's choice of what he wanted to be remembered for. You can even go back to Ancient Egypt's Great Library of Alexandria, where local potentates decreed that anyone, even visitors, who owned a book had to lend it to the library, so it could be copied and kept for reference.
The Library Board accepted Elder's resignation Friday, and immediately commissioned both a national search for her replacement and a City Hall audit of library policies and procedures. Both are crucial to the library's future.
The directorship of the Salt Lake City Library should be considered a plum job for any library pro. It is a vibrant institution in a city that values learning. And, as recent events show, people care about it. Its next director should be someone who can make the most of that.