Negotiations to begin with library director

Negotiations to begin with library director

URBANA — The Urbana Free Library board plans to begin negotiating with Executive Director Deb Lissak for her release after it was announced this week they had reached a "mutual" agreement to seek early separation.

Lissak was set to make $101,000 this year under a one-year contract that began July 1. Board members have asked her for a letter outlining her request for being released from that contract early and will negotiate from there, Board President Chris Scherer said on Thursday.

Lissak has been at the Urbana Free Library for 32 years. She has spent the past six as its director and 23 before that as its associate director. She has a master's degree in library science from the University of Illinois.

After a closed session meeting to discuss personnel issues on Tuesday, board members convened into open session to announce that Lissak would not have much more time as the library director following a controversial "weeding" of the adult nonfiction section.

Scherer on Thursday again would not comment about what exactly prompted her dismissal, only saying that the decision was mutual and that both Lissak and the board had concerns about her remaining the head of the library much longer.

In the meantime, the board is reviewing options for an interim director, and plans to launch a search for a permanent replacement in the coming weeks.

"I don't know what the time frame is for that," Scherer said. "For one thing, I've got a call in to the mayor's office to see how she fits in because I don't want to displease the mayor at this time."

Tuesday's board meeting for the second time in less than a month brought out dozens of library patrons concerned about the culling of books in the adult nonfiction section. They have said the method and the speed of the removal of books from the stacks was too extreme.

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.

The large numbers of books that came off some of the shelves raised red flags for patrons and library employees.

The goal was to scrub the stacks before library officials installed radio-frequency identification tags in each book. Those tags allow for self-checkout stations and make processing the books easier for librarians.

Urbana Free Library employees have spoken at those board meetings — some in defense of Lissak and others saying that the weeding method for which they worked off spreadsheets instead of looking at the books themselves was not in line with best practices.

The books were shipped off to Better World Books, a Georgia- and Indiana-based company that sells or recycles discarded books from libraries. Better World Books has since returned at least 259 boxes of books, some of which will return to the shelves.

Scherer said he also does not know a timeline for that — tagging has begun in the previously-weeded children's section, but "it'll take longer now to get to the adult section."

"At some point in time, those boxes that have been returned will be weeded according to the bylaws and the criteria that have been established," Scherer said. He added that he is sure some of those books will return to the shelves, but it is impossible to know at this point how many that will be.

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SocialinPurple wrote on July 12, 2013 at 11:07 am

I hope the search for the new library director will be open and patrons will have a hand in the selection.

sweet caroline wrote on July 12, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Patrons won't have a hand in the selection.  That's what a board is for.  As patrons, we don't have the time and resources to scour through each candidate's qualifications.  The library board is entrusted to do that.