Santa Paula Times

Longtime BCL Librarian Robles terminated by unanimous vote of Trustees

April 24, 2013
Santa Paula News

Dan Robles

Dan Robles was terminated as the Blanchard Community Library Librarian Tuesday evening, following a more than three-hour closed-door meeting between district Trustees and an attorney. Robles, a Santa Paula native, had been at the helm of the library - where he first volunteered as a teenager - for 33 years.

According to board attorney Nancy Kierstyn Schreiner of Nordman Cormany Hair & Compton, the reasons for Robles’ termination are under wraps. “I really can’t talk about it because it’s a personnel matter,” said Schreiner, who did note that Robles’ termination was “effective immediately.” 

According to the announcement following the closed session, the full board voted to end Robles’ employment with the library, located on North 8th Street. “I’ve given my professional life to the library,” Robles wrote when asked for comment, “to keep it alive and open the hours it’s now available to patrons.”

Linda Spink, first elected as a Library trustee in November and appointed president of the board just last month, said she was not able to comment on the issue.

Although Robles’ relationship with the board and staff had seemed to worsen since two new trustees - Spink and Maureen Coughlin - were elected in November, discord surfaced publicly after a group of volunteers approached the board in December 2011 offering help to initiate improvements. Although working with board approval, none of the suggestions or projects, including the installation of donated shelving, were initiated; eventually, the board suspended the efforts of the group.

Criticisms became sharp over of the facility’s upkeep and safety, including the storage area that was declared a fire hazard after a March 2013 city inspection. OSHA also weighed in noting an unsafe workplace.

Also being targeted were library finances and recordkeeping, personnel issues including lack of training and alleged intimidation, public records sharing, Brown Act concerns, lack of staff policies and procedures and other issues that started to bring increasingly negative public comment to the board. 

Robles publicly announced in August 2012 that the library board had told him that he could not run for reelection to the Santa Paula Elementary Board of Trustees, a post he had held for four terms before being voted out of office in 2010. Robles, who made the comments at a school board meeting, had been appointed to the board to fill in for a trustee who had to resign in the last months of his term. 

“When they (the library board) found out in the newspaper that I was appointed for this they pulled me into closed session and basically told me that there was an issue that required that I not do anything else in the community,” Robles told the school board in August. “If I did then I would be called in to discuss it, which probably means any number of things.”

More and more people started attending BCL Board meetings questioning policy, practices, and Robles new contract, which raised his base pay to about $76,000 annually. When two longtime trustees announced they would step down, numerous candidates filed for the seats - most looking to bring positive change to the library and reverse problems and shortfalls due to what several said they perceived was due to years of neglect by the board and librarian.

A tipping point were reports in recent months of a man engaging in lewd behavior in the library while viewing questionable material on a library computer. Much of the concern centered on how the incident was handled by staff after the man again visited the library. 

Recent Board meetings drew more than 75 people, many questioning library practices and questioning the leadership of Robles. 

The librarian did have his supporters, including former Trustee Mal King who spoke at a recent meeting. At the April 2 meeting King questioned several allegations made by library critics and objected to emails containing “vitriolic language” circulated by library critics. 

A former District Attorney investigator, King doubted library critics could generate a Grand Jury investigation that several had said would be sought when a new jury was seated in July. “Dan has given his life to the library,” and King noted that although the librarian’s physician has recommended that he step down, Robles refuses. 

A community activist with the Kiwanis Club, Santa Paula Theater Center and others, Robles, honored over the years for his efforts on behalf of the community and the library, first started with the library as a teenage volunteer. He later attended the University of California San Jose, where he obtained a Master in Library Science. He graduated from Lewis & Clark College where he majored in English, education and theater arts.

At Tuesday’s meeting in open session, Trustees agreed to hire a consultant specializing in library administration. They have not announced when they will launch a search for a replacement.

“I’m just sorry that it took this long in order for changes to be made,” said Cathy Sorenson, a library volunteer who had addressed the board numerous times on the issues. “I regret Dan didn’t accept the help that was offered by the volunteers” more than a year ago that Sorenson said could have forestalled the crisis. Sorenson said she “personally asked Dan seven times if I could help out and get things done,” an offer she said Robles repeatedly rebuffed due to “organizational issues.”

“I don’t think anyone is taking joy in the way Mr. Robles’ long career at the Library has ended,” said Lisa Sorensen, who was defeated for a seat on the library board last November in her first bid for office. “However” she added, “with all of the issues coming out, I don’t believe the board had any other choice but to terminate his contract... it was clearly a difficult decision for them, but they did the job they were elected to do by putting the library and the public interest first.”

As word spread throughout the community that Robles was under fire, several members of the Santa Paula Society of the Arts said he had always been extremely helpful with their annual art and photography show as well as the regular exhibits at the library. According to a letter from Robles supporter Keith Gallagher read at the April 16 board meeting, Robles always put the library first and was commended for the “great sacrifices” he has made for the library.

In his email, Robles wrote he was feeling “shock and the numbness... I’m sure there are other stages to overcome: anger, resignation, fear, acceptance,” but all in all, “I wish the library continued success and good luck!”

It was only in recent weeks that Robles had fired back in the latest Friends of the Library newsletter, writing that being a librarian can include “being accountable to a swarm of officials, a dystopian diversity of constituencies, and a gang of pressure groups, issues change with each new day.”

Robles wrote his mission has always been to “improve people’s lives through facilitating knowledge creation. My goal has been to connect those who come into the library with the strands of information they find interesting, want to read, and with discoveries that make them say, ‘Aha!’ I think I have done that if nothing else.”

Another excerpt notes: “For 46 years I have been gaining knowledge and have cared deeply about my work and ‘saving’ the library for the benefit of the public. Once a controversial decision has been made, it should be supported internally. Complaining about it publicly harbors on employee reprimand and gains only additional grief.... I never left the ‘sinking’ ship,” when drastic state cuts in 1978 hit the library budget and threatened it with closure, and the library has prevailed through economic downturns since, “nor should I now.... But, just in case,” wrote Robles, “thank you all for the ride of my life, as I ponder whether my time has come.”