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greglucasEarlier this week, California Governor Jerry Brown appointed Greg Lucas as the new California State Librarian.  The appointment requires state senate confirmation, which has not happened yet.

Lucas is not a librarian, nor has he ever (per information readily available online) worked in a library, volunteered for a library, served on a library Board or Commission, or…well…had any involvement with libraries at all. So what has Lucas done? He was a political reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and more recently has been a political blogger.

My Own Reaction

My initial response on social media was in line with that of many librarians:

“California’s new State Librarian isn’t a librarian. What in the hell, governor?”

After the initial outcry, there was a backlash of people telling those of us with grumpy faces to hold on and stay positive. The positive push included things like: Let’s be welcoming, assume he’s amazing and will do great things for us because he’s politically connected, and not criticize the choice–at least not publicly.

I stopped for a moment and reconsidered my position. Could a political blogger be a good State Librarian? Yes, of course he could. I don’t have a positive or negative impression of Mr. Lucas because I know next to nothing about him.  Here’s what I do know: he’s 55, has a Bachelor’s in Communications from Stanford and a Masters in Professional Writing from USC. His grandfather is former Supreme Court Chief Justice Malcolm Lucas. His wife is Donna Lucas, who runs a political public relations firm that has historically worked with conservatives. I know that he signs off most of his Tweets with “xoxox,” and Tweeted on February 24th (his second-to-last Tweet before his appointment): “Never let academics stand in the way of your education, supposedly said Mark Twain.”  Right. OK. Perhaps not the best thing to say right before you walk the gauntlet of a large state’s worth of librarians.

We have heard nothing from Lucas or the Governor’s office about what qualifications, experience, or personal qualities Lucas possesses that made Brown tap him for this appointment. No library experience and no experience running a large, complex organization spells trouble to me as a hiring manager. This, even more than his lack of an MLIS, is what bothers me.

That being said, as many have pointed out in discussions on Lucas’s qualifications the California State Education Code states:

19302. The division shall be in charge of a chief who shall be a technically trained librarian and shall be known as the “State Librarian.”

Apparently the Governor’s office doesn’t think that’s a problem.  Following up on the super brief press release on the appointment and the immediate biblioshitstorm that followed, Evan Westrup (spokesperson for the Governor’s office) said Lucas’s appointment was in keeping with the law and that Lucas “will be pursuing additional technical training through San Jose State University’s library science program in the months ahead.”

Even if you read “technically trained librarian” as not necessarily meaning an MLIS, how exactly is Lucas a technically trained librarian, and/or how can he become one in short order while simultaneously serving as, and getting paid as, the State Librarian? And what precisely will he be doing at SJSU? Getting his MLIS? Taking only an introductory class? There’s a wide swath of possibilities here, ranging from encouraging to disturbing.

Any negative feelings I have about this appointment are not directed at Lucas whatsoever. They are directed at Brown for either a lack of understanding of the operations of the State Library and the position of State Librarian or for a lack of explaining the magical rainbows and unicorns thought process in his head that lead him to this decision.

In my humble opinion the State Librarian should be a librarian.

And being welcoming to Lucas is not mutually exclusive with questioning his suitability for the post, lacking any substantial information from either him or the Governor’s office.

California Librarians’ Reactions

In the days since the initial announcement, California librarian social media and listservs have been aflutter with questions, arguments, concerns, and cheerleaders for Lucas’s appointment. Many people talked about the century-plus length of time it’s been since California’s state librarian was not a librarian (the last one was James L. Gillis, appointed in 1899). Many brought up the advantages of having a Sacramento insider as the mouthpiece for California libraries. There has been discussion that an unknown number of California librarians were contacted by the Governor’s office regarding the position, and anecdotally at least, they turned down the position.

The most productive contribution came from the folks encouraging those stimulated to action by the appointment to also be advocates for three key library legislative issues in California right now–a statewide library broadband initiative, a bill to lower the voter threshold for bond and special taxes for libraries, and a bill for a new library construction bond. Note: I have written a multitude of letters on all three and asked my Board of Trustees, Friends of the Library, and Library Foundation Board members to do the same.

California Library Association’s Reaction

Individual librarian opinion aside, I was waiting to hear what the California Library Association had to say. I should stop for a moment and note that I am not a CLA member, nor is my library an institutional member. The reasons for that are long and involved and aren’t totally relevant here. But, as a California librarian and library director, I feel that CLA’s response speaks for me in public, for better or worse.

CLA response was mixed and confusing.  We saw the first CLA response in an article published on March 25th:

Rosario Garza, the executive director of the California Library Assn., also said the post should be filled by a librarian. “It’s a complex world and we are facing a lot of challenges,” Garza said.

The following day, March 26th, Deborah Doyle, the President of CLA, sent a message out on CALIX, CLA’s listserv. From that message [excerpts]:

The CLA Board unanimously welcomes a new State Librarian.

While the appointment of Mr. Lucas was unexpected, CLA has had a tradition of working with many State Librarians during its 129-year history and will, we hope, continue to collaborate with the State Library. Mr. Lucas may not have traditional librarian training, but his relationships with California state leaders, as a political writer/reporter/blogger and long-time Sacramento resident, will be of great importance to the work ahead. How fortunate that the State Library staff has broad and deep knowledge of that work.

Now, more than ever, we should be building and strengthening relationships. 

What is CLA’s position? It sounds like, at least privately among California library staff CLA is saying “We welcome and endorse the new State Librarian without questions–so be nice, y’all.” And publicly, in one brief statement CLA is saying “Hey now, the State Librarian should actually be a librarian.” Methinks there are some internal communication breakdowns occurring within CLA. I hope CLA puts out a lengthier and unified public statement soon.

My Final Thoughts

I am disturbed by Brown’s appointment, but will reserve my final judgement until we know more about Lucas and hear directly from him. Hopefully that will happen before his confirmation hearing.

I am equally disturbed that CLA made such a broad statement of acceptance/endorsement without asking the many questions that its members (and non-members) are asking.  What qualifications and qualities does Lucas have that will make him a successful State Librarian? Why was he interested in this position? Does he have any positions on libraries (public, school, academic, special) and the many challenges we’ve faced especially in recent years of budget cuts? What does he plan to do to increase his understanding of the issues facing libraries throughout the state?

As a librarian it’s my job to advocate for my community.  While the State Library does not play into the day to day operations of my library, it affects many big picture issues that affect those operations: state funding, legislative support, grants, and more.  I, for one, am not yet convinced that this appointee is good for my community. I sincerely hope that he is–that he’s the best damned State Librarian we’ve ever seen. But until he is confirmed, I encourage my colleagues in positions of power within the state association and state government to ask the questions that aren’t being asked. Our California communities deserve no less.

“Musings on the new California State Librarian appointee”

  1. Jeanne G Says:

    Thanks for this post Sarah. I am in complete agreement. Yes of course it’s possible that one can be an effective advocate and leader without being a professional librarian, but it also seems likely, given his background as political reporter and insider connections (and complete lack of anything library-related mentioned in the press release fer gawd sake) that this appointment is more political than usual for State Librarian. But almost more troubling to me was the rapid and unilateral move to endorse Lucas by the CLA Board, in spite of the concerns expressed in various forums–and without any attempt to engage in a dialog with its membership.

  2. Lisa Hubbell Says:

    Here’s my letter, trimmed to just below the 2000 characters my state senator’s website allows:

    Governor Brown’s appointment of Greg Lucas as State Librarian is premature. California State Education Code 19302 states that “The division shall be in charge of a chief who shall be a technically trained librarian.”

    The credential to serve as a professional librarian rather than a paraprofessional library assistant is the MLIS degree. In California, this distinction is rigidly upheld in publicly funded libraries and academic institutions, which automatically reject applicants who have not completed their coursework. The only flexibility in this qualification is that some libraries will consider applicants who will have their MLIS awarded by the time the position begins.

    Spokesperson Evan Westrup has stated that “our appointee will be pursuing additional technical training through San Jose State University’s library science program in the months ahead.” This is a good beginning for someone entering the field. But a full MLIS encompasses such skills in the context of library management, provision of library services to a range of audiences, and a solid grounding in intellectual freedom and ethics. The principles and rigor that are foundational to the library field go far beyond a few months of technical training.

    Lucas’ transferable skills as a journalist, his connections as the son of a State Chief Justice and the husband of a political consultant, and his brief service on the board of the Friends of the California Archives, are not enough to qualify him as a local public librarian, let alone as the State Librarian. Let him be considered after he has earned an MLIS.

    Meanwhile, Governor Brown should seek a truly qualified appointee for this position, one whom the State Senate can approve in good conscience and in accordance with state law. The State Librarian needs not just technical training, but the appropriate credential and experience as a professional librarian. Thank you for taking the position of State Librarian seriously.

    Lisa Hubbell, MLIS

  3. ksol Says:

    I think the Annoyed Librarian pegged it when she called it the best entry librarian job ever. I will withhold judgement until we see what happens with him, but I don’t think this bodes well.

  4. Brig C. McCoy Says:

    Just now got a chance to read this. Well said, as usual.


  5. P Jackson Says:

    My first thought would be; what’s his phone number, when can we meet, how can I help shape his agenda, how can I introduce him to the positive movers and shakers.
    You might be surprised if he is an advocate and has the skills to think and influence strategically.
    When I was appointed Provincial Library Director (non librarian) my pledge was to stay out of operations and to think strategically, advocate, move the agenda forward and focus the library community on some common goals.
    It was the best 13 years of my life and the results speak for themselves.

    P Jackson
    Alberta, Canada

  6. Diane DuBois Says:

    Just curious…what the job description required for this position?

  7. Sarah Says:

    The only place a job description exists is in the State EducationCode. The state librarian may:

    “Give advisory, consultative, and technical assistance with respect to public libraries to librarians and library authorities, and assist all other authorities, state and local, in assuming their full responsibility for library services.”

    “Acquire, organize and supply books and other library informational and reference materials to supplement the collections of other public libraries of the state with the more technical, scientific and scholarly works, to the end that through an established interlibrary loan system, the people of the state shall have access to the full range of reference and informational materials.”

    “Make studies and surveys of public library needs and adopt rules and regulations for the allocation of federal funds to public libraries.”

    You can read the full description in Title 1 of the California Education Code:

  8. Elisia G Says:

    My question is what happens if the appointment doesn’t go through. Will he still attend SJSU? If he is truly passionate about libraries and librarianship, his attendance at the school should not change. Otherwise to me, it’ll confirm to me this was simply just a political position.

  9. Zaru Says:

    “Will he still attend SJSU?”


    Even if he gets the job he is hardly going to be “attending” SJSU. And, of course, if he isn’t confirmed he’ll blow the whole thing off and go back to blogging.

    Why does this profession believe that someone who has never had any involvement with libraries–at all–can demonstrate that they care about libraries? If they don’t care (never mind the lack of qualifications), how can they advocate?

  10. David Says:

    From what I can tell, management of libraries by trained librarians has not produced a lot of functional organizations, and perhaps librarians need to accept the reality that the MLIS does a poor job of preparing librarians for management roles. In my experience, it is entirely possible for a non-domain expert to provide adequate administration of a public institution, or business.

    I would rather have a proven manager with strong financial skills who respected the domain knowledge of their subbordinates running our State library than a trained librarian without a proven track record of leadership and administration in a public agency. A MPA or MBA and a successful record of public sector management experience should be sufficient, in most cases, to provide administration for any library. Many libraries are badly managed because the MLIS is valued more than experience or formal training in management. I have personally experienced this phenomena.

    That’s not to say Mr. Lucas is qualified. I doubt he is. But the knee-jerk, “He doesn’t have a MLIS,” reaction does not convince me anymore.

  11. When the State Librarian is not, in fact, a librarian… | Nicole Helregel Says:

    […] try to seek out local librarian viewpoints before making my own decisions. I leave you with the thoughts of a Sarah Houghton, a California librarian whose blog, Librarian in Black, is consistently fantastic and […]

  12. W.R. Hinshaw Says:

    You gotta love it when politics function like normal. And by normal, I mean via execution of appointments through patronage. I would imagine, were people (read “the library and information field”) raise enough of a fuss about this, like most people did with former Mozilla CEO Mr. Brendan Eich, maybe either Mr. Lucas will step down or the State Senate in California will refuse to confirm him? (That question was meant to be parts rhetoric, serious, and sarcastic, FYI.)

    I think this also speaks to a greater trend of the library field not being taken too seriously by the government, state or federal. We have seen this in Paul Ryan’s proposed budget. Additionally, certain government officials whom we do not need to name also think it is perfectly okay to breach the privacy of library users. The library and information professional world has to be at the forefront of letting the California State Senate know how it feels about Mr. Lucas. Does the position of the California Library Association really reflect those of its members or the people it advocates?

    On the other hand, there are success stories of non-librarians coming to particular library-related posts of power and working wonders. For instance, the Director of the Saint Paul Public Library in Minnesota, Kit Hadley, is a trained attorney who, although she worked in various public functions (including overseeing the merger between Hennepin County and Minneapolis Public Libraries–Google it sometime) prior to coming to the Directorship, she had no library experience, not unlike Mr. Lucas here. However, she has been a God-send to the library system, continuously advocating for the library, making public appearances, working closely with Saint Paul mayor Chris Coleman, and overall solidifying the system’s longevity. Because public libraries function for the sake of the public, as well as because of the public, such a job is just as much political as it is a service.

    And maybe that’s what Jerry Brown is going for here. Maybe he’s looking for someone who knows how to work the political system and to provide more prestige for libraries.

    Or Jerry Brown is a 75-year-old crackpot and is losing his marbles. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell with politicians that age.

  13. Nancy M. Says:

    Are there not many or any librarians who are also effective managers in the State of California? Of course there are! It is insulting that Governor Brown would choose someone without even the most basic librarian qualifications to be State Librarian. It is like appointing a former pharmaceutical salesman to become Surgeon General. Disapppointing… shame on you Governor.

  14. M.E. Says:

    This smells of either:

    Not surprising. Politics is politics.

    Well, I’m not going to get into a political discussion, but many California voters were naive enough to vote for Jerry Brown, thinking he’s a
    “Man of the People” because he’s a Democrat.

    Too bad the 99% of the people in the U.S.A. have the entire political machine working against them.

  15. SlG Says:

    Your post covers so many great points. I don’t live in California but I do agree wholeheartedly. Your post needs to see a bigger audience. Political appointees need to be qualified for their positions and not be hired as a result of connections. Of course repeatedly telling our government that is exhausting but necessary.

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