These books are not Deb’s; they’re not the Library Board’s; they are our books~~Danielle Chynoweth

It was standing room only in Urbana Free Library’s auditorium on Wednesday. There were over 200 people in attendance and 85 more viewing via livestream. Ms. Lissak, however, was not in attendance. Forty people addressed the board. Most spoke out against the rushed, aggressive weeding that led to many thousands of books and CDs being removed from the shelves. Others expressed concern over the apparent hostile environment that many librarians at UFL have worked under for quite some time. And still others, like Larry Smith, asked hard questions about the “utterly nebulous” Strategic Plan that they feel isn’t a “real, concrete plan” at all. University Library Professors Kathryn La Barre and Carol Tilley presented five proposals to the Board of Trustees.

Personnel Concerns:

  1. The Urbana Free Library Board of Trustees ensures that all Trustees and employees have fair and adequate reporting and grievance structures.
  2. The Urbana Free Library Board of Trustees ensures that all employees — especially those who have voiced concerns, whether privately or publically — have adequate protection from recrimination by supervisors.
  3. The Urbana Free Library Board of Trustees ensures that high priority will be given to the City of Urbana’s diversity statement both with regard to personnel decisions and implementation of the strategic plan: “We foster an environment that values and encourages mutual respect, inclusion of all people, and utilizing differences and similarities as an organizational asset.”

Communication and Strategic Plan:

  1. The Urbana Free Library Board of Trustees implements more transparent communication processes and procedures for administrative and trustees reporting.
  2. The Urbana Free Library Board of Trustees directs administrators and staff to conduct an adequate and thorough community needs assessment to guide and inform current strategic planning initiatives.

Finally, unlike Monday’s City Council meeting, five six people spoke out for Director Deb Lissak, asserting that “the need for a thorough weeding was needed in the entire library” (Lora Fegley, UFL Director of Children’s Services). Three librarians from the Children’s Department — who recently underwent their own, separate weeding process — defended what’s happened to the Adult nonfiction collection, using their department’s resultant increased circulation to prove that heavy weeding is both necessary and beneficial. [Editor’s note: The Children’s Department’s weeding process had a slower time line, utilized the library’s weeding criteria, and was handled by the staff, who were able to look at the physical items before selection.]

Urbana Free Library Board of Trustees

The meeting lasted almost two hours. Mary Ellen Farrell made opening remarks, saying that she hoped the “correct information” would come to light, rather than “rumor or innuendo, vague interpretation or personal vendettas”:

At 9:00 p.m., the Library Board began deliberations (see their letter to the press below). At this writing, they have not yet made any decisions. I’ll close with, what I believe to be, one of last night’s most fair, eloquent, and sincere remarks:

When I first heard about this, and I believe the way this was culled, the way this was done, was at least a mistake — I pray a mistake, not straight out dishonesty, which I have not ruled out… But, mistake or not, leaders make mistakes, we’re human beings, and part of our job is to realize when we’ve made mistakes, hear that from the community, take responsibility, and say, ‘We are capable of solving this,' and solving it and re-instilling people’s confidence, and that has to start with your staff. And what broke my heart in all of this was when I listened to the director of the library that we all love blame her staff for what happened.

I’m gonna tell you straight up now, some day I’m gonna [make] a mistake and do something that someone here is not gonna agree with, and they're gonna come to call me short on it, or a staff member, and I’m gonna have to answer to that and make changes, maybe adjustments. And sometimes, that one person is gonna be the one who’s wrong, not me... But something's going on when an entire section of your staff says, ‘We feel we were bullied; we haven’t had a voice,’ then there’s something wrong. And your job is to serve those people.

It would never be acceptable, ever — and you can hold me accountable for this — that my Board of Directors will say to me that it’s okay for me to blame my staff for a large mistake of an organization that serves the community. If I ever do that, I'm wrong. And so, I believe it’s wrong, what's been done to blame the staff~~Jacqueline Hannah



From the Board, the following statement:

'We are encouraged that people are involved and share our love and concern for Urbana Free Library. We’ve heard you, and the Board is in the process of addressing the issues you have raised over the last week. To protect the privacy of individuals, please respect our process and understand that we are taking steps. As we make progress we will keep you informed.'

Personally, I would add that the entire staff of the Urbana Free Library should be commended for its tireless efforts on behalf of the citizens of Urbana. We are fortunate to have this invaluable resource in our town.


Mary Ellen Farrell

Board of Trustees

Livestream of meeting


Smile Politely’s request to Ms. Lissak for comment has been neither answered nor acknowledged.

The title of this article is a quote from JP Goguen’s address to the board.