Berkeley Library Chief Quits Amid Furor Over Book 'Weeding'

Berkeley Public Library's landmark Central Branch.  (Sarah Stierch/Flickr)

The head of the Berkeley Public Library has resigned in the midst of a controversy over the weeding of books from the city's Central Library.

Jeff Scott, who took the job as director of library services just 10 months ago, has been on the defensive as critics questioned his management style and honesty.

“It is with a heavy heart that I tender my resignation as the Director of Library Services of the Berkeley Public Library. I have enjoyed my work here at the library and I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish,” Scott said in a statement Monday.

The library's Board of Trustees will initiate a search to fill the position.

Members of the public, as well as current and former librarians, have accused Scott of lying about the number of books discarded by the library in the weeding process. They've also charged that he removed key library personnel from the process of culling the collection.

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Just under 1,000 people signed a MoveOn.org petition calling for Scott’s suspension or removal.

Scott took much of the criticism on at a special meeting of the Board of Library Trustees last week.

Many at the meeting complained about what they said was an overly aggressive book-weeding policy, as well as what they perceived to be a hostile working environment at the libraries and a lack of honesty and trust. They said they thought Scott had lied to the community about the number of items weeded out.

Scott initially said he thought 2,200 items had been discarded this year. He later acknowledged that the real number was 39,000, pointing out that in a previous year more than 50,000 items were weeded out. Some also said they were punished for speaking out against the collections management policy.

A number of the speakers called for Scott to be either fired or suspended without pay.

Pat Mullan, a former librarian who was a leader in the campaign against the weeding, told Berkeleyside she was “relieved” at the news of Scott’s resignation.

"The community is aghast at what happened," Mullan said. "I hope the library board now can take the reins and find an interim director who understands the staff and the collection while doing a national search.“

Mullan added that she thought two other staffers in collection management should also leave.

“I am really happy he is gone. He was the wrong man for the job,” said Bob Baty, who retired as the libraries' head of maintenance in 2008 after 19 years and who now serves on the board of the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library.

“He consistently lied to us about the number of books that were pulped, number one," Baty said. "And number two, he kept saying they were all going to the Friends, and all we got were five boxes out of 39,000 volumes. So he broke trust with the entire staff, and therefore his ability to lead was gone.”

City Councilman Kriss Worthington, who called last week for an independent investigation into the weeding issue, said he still wants to know more about what happened at the libraries.

“If somebody else is responsible for the mistreatment of the librarians and inaccurate information, they shouldn’t be off the hook and have him be the sacrificial lamb,” Worthington said. “We need to see what went wrong. Where did the inaccurate information come from. Did it come from him only? From one person to him? From two people to him? Who made the mistakes?”

This is the second Berkeley library director who has been forced to resign in recent history. Jackie Griffin resigned in 2006 over union-related issues.

While Scott was in his position for only about 10 months, he oversaw the creation of a new strategic plan for the library, one that included creating a larger gathering spot for teens in the Central Library. He was concerned about how to balance the needs of the homeless with other patrons and set up a task force to consider the situation. He was also active on social media, tweeting regularly about library events and issues. He is a voracious reader and posted book reviews regularly on Goodreads.

The board is scheduled to meet next week, at which time it will discuss the details for a new director search.

“We feel the role of the director of the Berkeley Public Library is a terrific opportunity, and we look forward to proceeding with that selection,” said Abigail Franklin, chair of the library board.

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Berkeleyside broke this story on Twitter. Want to get breaking news quickly? Follow Berkeleyside on Twitter and on Facebook.

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