• A building during winter time

      The Altadena Library District is experiencing an unexplained staff exodus that is of concern to the community (Photo – Ari G Arambula)

      More than 13 employees have abruptly resigned from the Altadena Library District (“Altadena Library”).

      By Ari Gutierrez Arambula

      Since 2020, these resignations constitute about 50% of total Altadena Library staff. Reasons cited by departed staff members for reluctantly giving up secure government jobs include a stressful work environment created by demanding workloads, lack of trust by management and the stress of trying to provide primary library services while carrying many additional assignments not part of their job descriptions.  They explain that all of this is over and above the work challenges created by COVID-19 safety measures.

      Angry Calls over Property Tax Lien

      One of the high stress situations with which frontline staff has had to contend is fallout from Measure Z.  In early 2021, property owners selling or refinancing learned from their lenders that a tax lien had been placed on their homes thereby delaying and/or jeopardizing the transaction.

      Angry homeowners called the Altadena Library to complain to the librarians. In her March 2021 e-newsletter the Executive Director referred residents to an explanation of the special tax lien: altadenalibrary.org/specialtaxlien. It states, “The Notice of Special Tax Lien is NOT a traditional financial lien and DOES NOT mean that any amount of property tax is delinquent or has not been paid.” Lien questions now are directed to its consultant at 1-800-676-7516.

      While the special tax lien situation seems to have been addressed by management, it is unfortunate that the brunt of the issue fell on strained staff to calm the nerves of homeowners who found themselves in a financial panic.

      History of Altadena Library District

      Established in 1926 as an independent Library District, the Altadena Library serves the unincorporated community of Altadena in the County of Los Angeles. It is funded by property taxes, governed by a five-member Board of Trustees, and it has an annual budget of $3.9 million.  The website for the Altadena Library states that, “the main and branch libraries are used by local students at Pasadena Unified School District, private schools and home schooled children and teens”.

      Innovative Library Programming

      The Altadena Library main library is located at 600 E. Mariposa Street, and the Bob Lucas Memorial Branch and Literacy Center is located at 2659 Lincoln Avenue – both in Altadena.  State of the art programming includes free access by “any Californian” to its library of books, audiobooks, CDs, DVDs and its Library of Things, which features telescopes, sewing machines and hiking equipped backpacks.

      Fundraising a Priority over Employee Moral

      While the innovative programs are terrific, it is not typically the responsibility of librarians to write fundraising grants, run fundraisers or run ballot measure campaigns on behalf of the Board.  Typically, consultants or dedicated staff are hired for these roles.  Additionally, the Executive Director, Nikki Winslow, is often not available to support staff because she commutes from Las Vegas, where her husband and children live full time. “Nikki is rarely able to support staff at weekend and community engagement events, and she is in Las Vegas more often now than when she first started the job in 2019,” states a former staff member who resigned in the last year.

      Customer Service Affected

      Employees who have resigned indicate that the high number of resignations is affecting customer service. With key staff leaving abruptly, others have had to scramble to save face and run programs with which they are not familiar. This increases stress and tension among remaining employees.  Because the Altadena Library is a public service entity, former employees say that it is time the Board of Trustee to make more of a fiduciary effort to get things right for staff, Altadena Library customers and taxpayers.

      The Altadena Library District meeting on the Measure Z Tax, scheduled for December 8, 2021, was cancelled. Public meetings can be watched on the Library’s YouTube channel. Public comments may be submitted online at altadenalibrary.org/publiccomment.

      > Note: Former employees interviewed for this piece wished to remain unidentified.


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      Contributor

      Comments

      1. JS says:

        It doesn’t seem like the trustees care about staff when they give the director a raise and a 10k bonus and the staff get nothing. No wonder there all quitting!

      2. noni says:

        I wish this article would of contacted the library itself for comment or the Director, with that being said its disheartening that the Board of Trustees president just easily dismisses internal staff problems and turnover.

      3. Dr Katie Clark says:

        It is with great disappointment that I read this so-called article published today regarding the Altadena Library District. Not only did it contain unsubstantiated and personal attacks against the Director, it was poorly reported and improperly sourced. Neither the Director nor any Trustee were contacted for comment, and the reporter in question, Ms. Arambula, seems to have taken at face value what is essentially a laundry list of grievances and gossip promulgated by disgruntled former staff. It is a stretch to call this effort journalism, and while I hesitate to dignify it with a response, I wanted to take the opportunity to respond briefly, because I know that residents of Altadena care about our library, and you deserve accurate and full information. So to that end, I’d like to address several specific and erroneous claims made about the District.

        (1) Staff turnover: Over the course of the past several years, some staff have retired, some have resigned, and some have moved on to new opportunities. We are a small organization – between 30-40 employees at any one time – and while it is always sad to see someone go, it is also the case that sometimes a certain amount of turnover is healthy for an organization. In early 2020, the District, at Director Winslow’s urging, prioritized and completed a thorough classification and compensation study to assess the job descriptions, skill sets, and compensation levels of all staff at all levels. As the Library moves forward, it has also been successful in recruiting outstanding librarians from across the nation. Rigorous hiring processes, including outside review by peer librarians in other systems, has led to a staff that is at the top of their game and competitive with that of any library system in the region (or, we would venture to say, the state!). The District is fully staffed at this time, and is recruiting for one position.

        (2) The Director’s place of residence: Director Winslow is a resident of and homeowner in Alhambra. Her almost constant presence at District and community events is evident to any who attend. Her former position was as Assistant Director of the Glendale Public Libraries. The Director’s husband works and lives in Las Vegas, along with her school-age children, and she has been a resident of the Los Angeles area for the past five years. The way that the Director and her family arrange their schedules is no business of anyone else’s – the Board feels that District Director Winslow has gone above and beyond in her role as Director during a hugely challenging public health crisis, and she is not only fulfilling but far exceeding our expectations in her performance as Director.

        (3) Measure Z concerns: As the District moves forward thorough the bond sale process and the work of updating our libraries, there is not only complete transparency in the form of public meetings, but there are multiple opportunities for Altadena citizens to be involved. Our Community Facilities District Committee has three citizen members (as well as two trustees, staff, and expert consultants), and our Community Focus Group boasts representatives from organizations across Altadena. There is a remaining at-large seat on that group for any who wish to participate in the direction of the library reconstruction projects; to apply, please visit http://www.altadenalibrary.org/buildingprojects/

        District Director Winslow and the staff at the Altadena Library have the full confidence of the Board of Trustees. We are proud of the leadership that Director Winslow has shown during her tenure, and we are supportive and enthusiastic about the direction, management, and momentum of the District. It’s not appropriate to get into confidential personnel matters surrounding staff who have departed, but I can say without reservation that the District is in a stronger position now than it has been. I would encourage anyone with additional questions or concerns to contact myself or Director Winslow personally – and thanks for reading!

        Dr Katie Clark
        President & Trustee, Altadena Library District Board of Trustees
        kclark@altadenalibrary.org
        (626) 219-6444

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