Change coming to the library

Change coming to the library

The brouhaha at the Urbana Free Library has claimed a prominent casualty.

It's not easy to downplay the existence of a pitched battle when the roar of cannon is providing the background noise.

But that's what board members at the Urbana Free Library are doing these days in the wake of an ugly controversy over what has been described as the excessive weeding of books from the library's shelves. In the face of intense public criticism about how the library is being run, they've listened but largely kept their own counsel.

Board members have, however, taken substantive action. They announced last week that the library's executive director and 32-year employee, Debra Lissak, will be leaving the library earlier than planned by "mutual agreement." As to the reason, nobody will say officially except to acknowledge unspecified "concerns" that prompted Lissak's planned early exit.

Two public hearings have drawn big crowds, and feelings run deep. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that there is a problem within the organization. Although some critics have charged there is a "crisis of leadership" at the library, it's hard to believe that this is an issue about one person.

That's why the current situation calls for candor. Library board members need to remember the library is a public institution, and they are public officials.

Just what is it that needs to be fixed, and how will it be achieved? Where does the library's strategic plan — generally a collection of vague organizational goals — fit into this mess?

Frankly, this has all the look of a food fight over personalities. If something more substantive is at issue here, the people in charge need to say so.

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