Library Board Debates Filling Two Management Positions

For the past year, the Birmingham Public Library has been embroiled in a controversy surrounding Executive Director Floyd Council. But at Tuesday’s meeting, the library’s board of trustees shifted its focus to replacing two other key staff members, including Council’s second-in-command.

Birmingham Public Library (Source: Encyclopedia of Alabama)

Deputy Director Sandra Vick Lee has announced that she will retire Dec. 7, while Tobin Cataldo, the library’s coordinator of collection management, is leaving his position Nov. 16 to head up the Jefferson County Library Cooperative.

The questions of how to fill those positions while permanent replacements are sought, and  who has the authority to appoint those replacements, led to a muddled, sometimes tense board meeting Tuesday night — one that did not yield easy answers.

The previous weekend, Council had sent board members an email with suggestions on interim replacements for Lee and Cataldo. “We’re going to need instruction of who covers the workflow while the positions are vacant,” he said, adding that he estimated it would be between 60 and 90 days before the positions would be filled, due to nationwide shortages in the library science profession.

Board member Gwendolyn Amamoo said that might hurt the workflow left behind when employees rise to fill the interim roles. “Their positions will suffer also,” she said. She suggested, instead, that the work of the two vacant positions be split among Council and others in the system. She said Council could stay at the library’s central location “and not go to so many workshops and meetings and that kind of stuff” to be able to help with the additional workload, insisting multiple times that she was not attempting to be “personal” or “ugly.”

At this, Council glared around the room before retorting that he had not taken a vacation in a year and could not stop going to city-mandated meetings “even if I wanted to.”

“I will give you my very best but there’s a limit on what I can do as a human being,” he said. “And I can tell you, I work night and day, well into the night until I have to stop myself from working on projects …  I love this work, and I come to you with the best credible passion about what the recommendations are as an expert with 17 years in the field of library information sciences. I’m not boasting, I’m just being respectful … When I come to you with a recommendation, it is based on my skill, it is based on listening to colleagues, and not based on what I know. I don’t know half of anything. I just know what has been shared and that’s what I can share.”

Board member Kimberly Richardson eventually cut in and said that the discussion was “going into an area that we don’t really need to be going into.” She also argued that the board making recommendations for the positions was going beyond its purview.

“If we have one employee and everyone agrees with that, then why are we getting into things that are below Mr. Council’s level?”

But board member Sherri Nielson replied that the board also would be responsible for appointing the new deputy director, something Richardson initially denied. Lee eventually interceded and said that she had been interviewed and hired by the board, not the director.

The board eventually voted to advertise for both positions, fill them as quickly as possible, and authorize Council to determine the process to appoint interim staffers.

(Correction:  The spelling of Tobin Cataldo’s name has been corrected.)