Earlier 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.