22 May 2006

Open Mouth, Insert DCPL

Well, it didn't take long for the backlash to begin . . . . And while I mentioned just the other day that I thought naming Ginnie Cooper Executive Director of DC Public Library was a step in the right direction, I am now happily second-guessing myself (note to self: press releases are meant to paint a rosy picture; I should already know this from work). Take a look at DCist's post today (look past the snarky/patronizing title if you're a fan of libraries/librarians), inspired by Dorothy Brizill's comments in today's DC Watch:

As I reported in themail on May 17, the DC Library Board of Trustees did in fact hold a special meeting on Thursday at which it voted to appoint Ginnie Cooper as the new head of the DC Library system. Cooper is currently the executive director of the Brooklyn Public Library. At a press conference following the board meeting, neither John Hill, chairman of the Trustee Board, nor Ms. Cooper would discuss the terms of her appointment. However, the next day, Friday, Hill issued a press release indicating that Cooper is expected to assume her position this summer, probably in August, and that her pay rate will be $205,000 ($179,946 plus a “retention incentive” of $25,054). In Brooklyn, Cooper was paid $200,000 per year to oversee the fifth largest independent library system in the US, with sixty libraries serving three million residents. In DC, Cooper will be paid $205,000 to oversee a much smaller library system of twenty-five library facilities serving 570,000 residents. Her salary continues the Williams administration’s policy of massive pay inflation for top-level government officials. As the May 19 edition of The Common Denominator reports, the library’s current interim director, Francis Buckley, is paid $138,159; and the library’s previous director, Molly Raphael, earned $121,000 after thirty-three years of service to DCPL.

In a press release announcing Cooper’s appointment, the library board says that “Cooper brings a clear vision of excellence in library services, as well as success in library management and fundraising to the executive director position.” However, New York City newspapers have been replete with stories of Cooper’s management snafus. Last year she had to repay $27,000 after auditors found that she had taken more than six weeks of vacation that were not allowed in her contract. The New York Sun reported that “the Brooklyn Public Library system has struggled with budget cuts, and its branches are currently open fewer hours that those of either of the city’s other two library systems, New York and Queens.” The New York Daily News quoted NYC Councilman Charles Barrow on Cooper’s appointment to head the DC Library system: “I’m sure there won’t be a whole lot of tears . . . over her departure.”

The controversy is much in line with the way DCPL has handled branch closings/"renovations," public input into the future of the MLK, Jr. Memorial Library, etc. While there is no doubt DCPL was urgently in need of a permanent (rather than interim) director, it's obvious that we need a transparent vetting process for the position. Our library system is in need of an extensive, if not complete, overhaul - if the community at large continues to participate only by making what I'd call "comments for the record" rather than being given the the floor with the full attention of the final decision makers, we will find other ways to make our voices heard.

Certainly I'm looking at just two sides of a many faceted story here, but why would we not only hire, but also give a pay increase - in a city with a lower cost of living - to someone who was found to have taken $27,000 worth of unauthorized vacation time? The Common Denominator has more details, including - please be sure you're sitting - "[Cooper] recently came under fire for [. . .] closing a library when a librarian received a minor injury [. . .] . [and] is leaving her current job in the midst of a major renovation of Brooklyn's Central Library, which is expected to be completed in 2007. " DC's residents not afford another library closing or a vacany in DCPL's top position in the midst of our planned renovation(s), and our pockets aren't deep enough for less than the best candidate to lead DCPL in the coming years of transition for $205,000/yr.

Comments? What about from those of you in New York searching for "Ginnie Cooper" who have been directed here?

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