After more than an hour-long closed-door discussion, embattled Salt Lake City Library Director Beth Elder announced her resignation, saying that “being a lightning rod of controversy has detracted from the library’s numerous accomplishments.”
Elder (pictured) took over direction of the downtown library in 2008 after previous director Nancy Tessman retired after 30 years at the library’s helm. Now in the three years Elder has been director, many employees have left or openly criticized her management style as too disconnected with staff. City Weekly previously reported sources saying that in an April 2010 staff meeting, 27 out of 31 hands voted "no confidence" in Elder’s leadership.
More disaffection came as a consultant approved Elder’s plans to be able to fire employees without the approval of the Library Board. While the board supported Elder then, now more than a year later, the Library Board had called an emergency meeting to discuss Elder’s fate. Things came to a boil in mid October as the Salt Lake Tribune had reported that Elder had sought to have her managers police staff e-mail and restrict criticism of her and the library’s management. Shortly thereafter, the Tribune also reported that nonprofit The Friends of the Library had threatened to stop fundraising for the library, writing in a letter that “Our faith and trust are shattered” by Elder’s leadership.
According to today’s meeting, Elder had negotiated a resignation through her attorney and the city’s attorney Thursday and agreed today to step down. In a closing statement, Elder spoke of accomplishments she achieved during her tenure such as expanding library branches in the Glendale and Marmalade neighborhoods and having avoided staff reductions and reduced library hours during the 2010 budget shortfall. Nevertheless, Elder said she could not allow controversy to get in the way of the library’s future growth.
“So today, I remove myself from the hot seat so the community can focus on what the library has to become,” Elder said.
President of the Library Board Kevin Werner personally thanked Elder’s service, saying that as “one of the most innovative thinkers in the library world today, Beth Elder deserves the thanks of the people of Salt Lake for the positive impact she had over a relatively short period of time.”
After Elder’s resignation, the board also moved to suspend the Library’s employee handbook and replace it temporarily with a generic Salt Lake City manual. The board also instated Debbie Ehrman as a transitional director, moved for the creation of a citizen advisory board to assist in the search for a new director and asked the Salt Lake City Council to consider conducting a performance audit of the library to gauge its economy and resource efficiency.