8 Fired From System; 30 Choose to Retire

By Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 9, 2007

Almost 40 employees of the D.C. Public Library system -- about 10 percent of the workforce -- will be leaving their jobs in early January as part of what officials describe as a plan to "transform" the beleaguered system and rejuvenate its personnel.

The group leaving includes the head librarians of seven of the District's 27 libraries.

The head librarians at the Mount Pleasant, Petworth and Woodridge branches were fired, along with five subject specialists at the central Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. The eight were let go "without cause" on Nov. 29 or 30, officials said. They were placed on paid administrative leave through Dec. 31, then accompanied to their desks to retrieve their belongings and escorted out the door.

Each will receive six months of severance pay beginning Jan. 1, a library official said.

Thirty other employees, including the head librarians at the Capitol View, Southwest, Washington Highlands and West End branches and the head of the Black Studies department at the central library accepted financial incentives to retire.

Ginnie Cooper, the city's chief librarian, was out of town and not available for comment late last week. But Nancy Davenport, the interim director of library services, said the decisions to offer the retirement incentives and to fire other employees is in line with the mandate Cooper was given when she was hired.

Davenport said Cooper was hired to improve a long-neglected system that in today's digital world requires not only state of the art buildings but personnel with a "new skill set." John W. Hill, president of the library's Board of Trustees, issued a statement echoing that sentiment: "The board of trustees hired Ginnie Cooper to transform the library. She has our support in making the decisions that will achieve that."

D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), the chairman of the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation, said that he would probably call a hearing with library officials to explore the impact of the retirements and firings on library service, to inquire about the reasons for the terminations and to discuss the importance of hiring D.C. residents to fill vacancies.

The "easy out" incentive was announced to library employees in an October e-mail that said 70 employees were eligible. That group consisted mostly of workers hired by the library before 1986. Those workers are covered by the same pension guidelines governing federal civil service employees and had already met the federal threshold to retire. A one-time bonus payment of $500 for each year of service was offered as incentive.

Davenport said the employees who opted to leave have worked from 21 to 54 years in the library system. She did not know the average age of those workers but she said the average length of service was 34 years.

The goal in refilling the positions, Davenport said, will be to hire more high-tech savvy employees. "We need librarians and library associates who are digital natives, who have grown up with that stuff and have the competence and confidence to use it.

"We need a skill set that is very comfortable working with teenagers because that's a group of city residents that need library services," she said. "And we need people who are very comfortable with change because they're coming into an environment that's changing."

The eight employees who were fired represent part of the system's middle-management leadership group, Davenport said. Among them are branch librarians who "lead the change at the neighborhood level. . . . We have to make changes to make sure all of our staffs are ready for this transformation and moving right along with it."

The firing of Ellen Kardy prompted an outpouring of support by the Friends of the Mount Pleasant Library, where she worked for almost 17 years.

Kardy declined to comment, but Friends of Mount Pleasant President Richard Huffine said: "The concern we have is that Ms. Kardy was an institution in our community, more so than the library itself. She survived all the lean years and now we have $8 million coming from the city for a [library] renovation. She was going to finally see that branch come back to its glory and that really breaks our heart."

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