New City Library United in Support of New Interim Director; Fissures Between Board Members Still Apparent

BY CHERYL SLAVIN

The monthly New City Library board meeting opened up with what President Tom Ninan called “the first positive comments…heard in a long time.” New City Library Staff Association president Karen Vetrano, as well as staffers Mary Phillips and Nancy Moskowitz, had nothing but praise and gratitude for newly hired interim director Mitch Freedman.

The new interim director, Dr. Maurice (Mitch) Freedman, spoke at length about many of the challenges facing the library as well as his optimism that they could be resolved. Some of the areas of concern, as he saw them, included not only finally putting the state AV grant to use for the library’s AV stock, but also upgrading the AV system in the meeting room, updating the library’s telephone system, designing a “quiet area” for library patrons, and ensuring that private tutors using the library to conduct their business do not impede the use and enjoyment of the library for other patrons.

Interim Director Mitch Freedman comes to the New City Library with a long background in library administration. After working at the Library of Congress and for the Henepin County Library in Minnesota, Director Freedman returned to New York where he eventually headed up the Westchester Library System for 23 years until his retirement in 2005. He didn’t stay retired long, however, explaining that all he’d do at home would be to eat and watch movies.

He served as president of the American Library Association for the 2002-2003 term, and continues to be actively involved with that and several other professional organizations. Throughout his career he has served as a speaker and consultant for dozens of libraries and has traveled extensively throughout the world in that capacity. At present, in addition to taking the reins at New City, he continues to serve as editor-in-chief of The U*N*A*B*A*S*H*E*D Librarian, a newsletter for library professionals.

Interviewed separately after the board meeting, Director Freedman reiterated his commitment to bringing consensus and cooperation to the board without overstepping his bounds as the board’s employee. He intends to approach the trustees with issues and recommendations that they can all support for the good of the library.

Already he has found the library staff to be hard-working, dedicated and knowledgeable, making his task that much easier from the start. He has been very impressed with how well the staff carried on despite the absence of a director for so long. In the spirit of fostering a safe environment for creativity, he intends to encourage the staff and the board to express their ideas, bringing the best ones to fruition. “I learned a valuable lesson a long time ago during my time in Minnesota,” he explains. “I learned about the importance of listening as a leader, as well as the importance of trusting my own leadership skills.”

Director Freedman also emphasized that he has never shied away from risks or challenges, and that when approached by the board to take on the challenge of the New City Library, he was up to the task. He is especially inspired by situations that need repair, and he has started his term at New City by focusing on good personal relationships with all board members and staff.

His positive approach certainly seems to be borne out by the glowing tributes already delivered about him at the most recent board meeting. Director Freedman is looking forward to the opportunity to really make a difference for the trustees and the staff in New City, but most of all for the patrons of the library. He is firmly of the opinion that a library is truly for the public good, whether by directly bettering the life of those who use it, or indirectly bettering society as a whole by providing a source of literacy and knowledge for all.

At last week’s board meeting, despite the positive energy Freedman has brought to the library and a member of the public stating he hoped the new president’s presence would bring about an end to the board’s “bickering,” the trustees soon began to butt heads, nonetheless.

After a few motions concerning personnel and finances were passed with relatively little conflict, the trustees turned their attention to approving the paying of warrants for the months of March, April and May. Trustee Jeffrey Greenberg then raised the question as to why $750 was paid to the library’s attorney for his attendance at an executive board meeting.

President Ninan replied at first that that there were “issues” that needed the attorney’s attention, but refused to elaborate, claiming that since some time had passed he could not accurately recall what was discussed, and further, that he wasn’t even sure there were minutes of that meeting. When pressed by Trustee Edward Kallen, Ninan finally disclosed that there were “personnel” and “interim director” issues.

Despite repeated questioning by Kallen and Greenberg, he would not elaborate as to what issue necessitated “immediate attention,” a by-law requirement, for an executive board meeting in the first place, and as to why the presence of the attorney was required. Ultimately the issue was partially resolved later in the meeting by Trustee Victor Berger’s motion to credit back to the library the unauthorized sum paid to the attorney, to be applied toward future attorney’s fees.

The entire discussion, including heated exchanges, raised voices and accusations among trustees that by-laws are not being followed illustrates that even though the board united to hire a new director, it is still far from working together as a cohesive whole. The board’s history of divisiveness has clearly impacted the lagging physical plant surveys and HVAC upgrades, the long delay in commencing the overhaul of the library’s AV collection, and the two-year delay in ratifying the four-year contract with the staff union, among other issues.