Library director: two views
We are employees at the Durham County Library and have had the pleasure of working with Philip Cherry III, the director, since he arrived in July 2002. Mr. Cherry brings strong, capable leadership, a vast array of professional successes, and a clear and inspiring vision for the future. He was selected by a knowledgeable and diverse team of people made up of members of the library board of trustees, county administrators and community members.
Philip has worked to implement an exciting long-range plan. We are well on our way to dramatically improving library facilities and services in neighborhoods throughout Durham. He is working with the county, staff, the board of trustees and volunteers to build three state-of-the art regional libraries and to renovate and expand the historic Stanford L. Warren branch. He is supporting a plan to raise additional, private funds for improved collections, programming and technology to complement the capital improvements.
Philip has led the behind-the-scenes work necessary to build new regional libraries. In addition, under Philip's leadership, the library is working in productive collaboration with more community organizations than ever before. He has done this while also making dramatic, county-mandated cuts in the regular operating budget.
Philip has encouraged staff to be the best public servants that we can be, including dressing more professionally. We have all been demoralized by the deteriorating state of the main library for several years (even before he arrived).
In all the institutions there is a certain percentage of turnover when new leadership takes over, particularly when that leader is selected to institute change as was Philip. Regular turnover also takes place in all institutions. It is the same here. Unfortunately, these departures took place during a county-mandated hiring freeze that was just lifted. We are in the process of replacing those positions. Like all county employees under a hiring freeze, many of us are trying to cover work previously done by others and are eager for new hires.
Under Philip's leadership we are bringing the library into the 21st century with budget priorities for 2003-04 of filling vacancies, improving security, and fully utilizing our resources and new technologies. He has recognized the importance of finding sources of revenue to improve library programs and services beyond what the county funds can provide.
Philip came into the library at an exciting and difficult time. On the one hand, public and private funding for expanding library services has grown, on the other hand, the regular budget for personnel, maintenance and security has decreased. While it has been a difficult year, most of the problems have been with us for several years. We believe that great things lie ahead for the patrons of the Durham County Library under Philip Cherry's leadership.
Susan Wright, head of outreach services
Priscilla Lewis, head of extension services
Karleen Fyffe, Brenda Watson and Nancy Scott, branch managers
Sandy Sweitzer, development officer
(This letter was also signed by 10 other staff members.)
There is no institution in society more important than the public library; it represents democracy at its best, providing free access for every citizen to the accumulated intellectual wealth of the world. We need to take great care of our libraries. In Durham, we are fortunate to have the best public library in the Triangle. It has a superior collection and its staff is outstanding, especially the reference people. Almost to a person, they are dedicated and hardworking in a difficult, demanding environment. An environment, unfortunately, made more difficult by the dictator-like tactics of the new director, Philip Cherry III, which Jennifer Strom reported in the Sept. 10 issue ("Angry Voices Rising Over Durham Library Director").
Having been a habituate of the library over the past eight years as both a patron and volunteer, I know many of the staff and have a perception and sense of the place which now spans the administrations of two directors. I have seen the deterioration of the ambience of the library and sensed the growing unhappiness of the staff working under constant personnel constraints and the inability to communicate their thoughts and feelings with their leadership. The staff is discreet and professional in not broadcasting their complaints to patrons, but their feelings are nonetheless apparent to anyone who has seen the morale changes that have occurred over the past year.
Mr. Cherry displays the same arrogance and immaturity in his dealings with the staff as he does with the press. His record shows an ability to build buildings but an inability to build positive professional relations with his staff (which are far more important). Worse, he seems incapable of responding to criticism change things. I think his behavior portends bad times for the library and the people of Durham. If Mr. Cherry is incapable of change than perhaps the Durham County Commissioners, in the interests of the community, should exercise some damage control and make that change.
A Sept. 24 article mistakenly referred to Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People Chairwoman Lavonia Allison as a member of the city-county planning commission. She serves on the board of adjustment.
Vertigo, a restaurant featured in the Sept. 24 RestaurantBeat column, is in Raleigh.
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