Salt Lake library director resigns amid controversy

Published: Friday, Oct. 28 2011 6:30 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — After more than three years of running Salt Lake City's libraries, director Beth Elder has stepped down.

The Salt Lake City Library Board of Directors on Friday unanimously accepted Elder's resignation after receiving multiple complaints on her management style and policy changes. Elder said stepping aside would help the library move forward.

"Being a lightning rod of controversy has detracted from the library's numerous accomplishments during the three-and-a-half years I have headed it," she said. "As a result, I can no longer effectively do my job of promoting and administering the Salt Lake City Public Library System."

Elder restructured library management and staffing roles, saying she had to make tough, but much-needed changes over the years.

However, most recently, one of the library's loyal fund-raising groups, Friends of the Library, threatened to withdraw future support unless changes were made. The group was pleased with the board's action on Friday.

Board members, however, praised Elder for the accomplishments made during her tenure.

"Beth was instrumental in shaping and implementing the library's forward-looking strategic plan focused on responding to the needs of the community. This strategic plan will carry our library system for years to come," said Board President Kevin Werner.

He said the library system has expanded and prospered under Elder's leadership, with new branches set to open soon.

The library also weathered a 2010 budget shortfall without cutting hours or employees under Elder's direction.

Werner said the criticism of the now former director was sometimes unfair, but it "never dissuaded her, nor did she lose sight of the best interests of the library and the city."

He said a performance audit of the organization will be conducted by the Salt Lake City Council, so underlying problems can be identified and addressed. Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said his office is already looking into the tension that existed between Elder and library staffers.

Elder will receive six months of pay and benefits, including a $25,000 bonus, as a severance package.

"I don't know at this point how much of that is change and how difficult it is for people to accept change and accommodate change, or what else is going on there," he said, adding that libraries everywhere are facing challenging times with budget pressures and digital technology changing the way they do business.

Debbie Ehrman, a long-time library employee, will act as interim director during the upcoming nationwide search for a new director. Werner said the search will be an open process, including input from the community, the staff, friends and all the library patrons.

Email: wleonard@desnews.com Twitter: wendyleonards

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