Updated: Urbana library to seek early separation with director
URBANA — The Urbana Free Library board announced on Tuesday night that it would seek early separation with Library Director Deb Lissak.
Board President Chris Scherer said it was a mutual agreement between the board and Lissak, and they would announce an end date for Lissak's employment while they work out the details and search for a replacement in the coming weeks. Lissak and board members declined further comment.
Another crowded meeting convened nearly a month after deep "weeding" of the adult nonfiction section became a controversy. Some speakers called for the replacement of Lissak, who has said the culling of books was a "misstep."
Weeding of the adult nonfiction books has since halted. Thousands of books were marked for removal from the stacks and shipped away, although some of those will be returned to the shelves.
Patron Laura Haber called it a "crisis in leadership."
"The director has had power without accountability," she said.
According to statistics compiled by Lissak, 9,343 books were removed from the stacks during the weeding process. The weeding encompassed sections that include 29,502 books — about 42 percent of the adult nonfiction collection — meaning the sections that were included before the weeding stopped were reduced by about 32 percent overall.
Portions of the arts sections that were included in the weeding were among those hit the hardest. One specific section of the arts stuck out: Books with call numbers between 700 and 741.4 were reduced by 54 percent.
The same was true about a specific section of technology and applied sciences: Books with call numbers between 660 and 699 were reduced by nearly 63 percent. Lissak has said that those two sections may have raised red flags for people, and some library officials have defended the rest of the weeding.
Better World Books has since returned 259 boxes of books, some of which will go back on the shelves.
Adult services librarian Carol Inskeep said she was one of the staff members "pressed into weeding." She called into question the method that was used: working off spreadsheets of books without actually going into the stacks to look at the books themselves.
"Weeding vast sections of the collections without looking at the books violates the most basic professional standards and defies common sense," Inskeep said.
She said she hopes library officials can learn a lesson from the controversy and avoid repeating the "destructive" event.
Scherer said officials plan to "re-evaluate" their strategic plan for the library, but do not plan to reopen it for a rewrite. He said public comments can be added to the document as an addendum, but that was not enough for some speakers.
"We must be honest and concrete with the public about our strategic plan," Inskeep said. "We must slow it down."
Board member Scott Bennett called the difference between reviewing or reopening the strategic plan "semantics."
"What we're interested in is really good ideas," Bennett said.
The library is taking steps to make its meetings more accessible, after patrons called for more transparency during that June meeting. Tuesday night's meeting was recorded for televising later on Urbana Public Television, and library officials plan to broadcast meetings live in the future.
Lissak also said board packets — not just the meeting agendas, but rather all the information board members themselves receive — will begin to be posted on the library's website at the same time as board members receive them.