The ALOUD Debacle at the LA Public Library

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Transparency Not Allowed: The Prerogatives of Power and the Los Angeles Public Library

Personnel decisions are notoriously opaque, and the “rules of engagement” mandate systematic closure to the process of hiring and firing. I have served on search committees at CSULB, for instance, and am not permitted to speak about that experience, even in utmost private confidence, let alone in a public forum. Given this systematic social practice, I doubt that anyone connected with Mr. Ken Brecher at the Library Foundation is going to break ranks and maker herself or himself a pariah open to legal action by disclosing details about the decision to fire the founders of the Aloud program at the DTLA Public Library.

No doubt the individuals at the Library Foundation in Los Angeles are wishing that a thousand prominent writers, artists, and cultural workers would treat the decision to fire Louise Steinman and Maureen Moore from the ALOUD series of public events at the DTLA Public Library as an occasion similar to the ones in which the announcement is posted: “The family requests privacy at this moment.” The protest of the Library Foundation’s insular administration, however, has only become more adamant, especially after the hiring of Jessica Strand to be Director of Public Programming less than two months after Steinman and Moore were inexplicably discharged. It’s hard to believe that an adequate job search was conducted in such a short time.

Thanks to Terry Wolverton and Phoebe Ozuna, I have received a summary of the events and the public actions taken by people in the literary community for whom I have the utmost respect. Many of these people have labored for decades to nurture a literary environment in Los Angeles, and some have done so with great personal sacrifice. I am unaware of any similar effort made by Mr. Ken Brecher. I appreciate the immediate permission granted at the end of their document to disseminate this information and hope that others will join me in signing their petition and urging others to join them.

bit.ly/aloudpetition

Dear Friends and Supporters of ALOUD,

We wanted to update you on events in the wake of the August 27, 2018 firings of Louise Steinman and Maureen Moore from the ALOUD series by the Library Foundation. Thank you again for your involvement in signing the petition. Many of you have also taken the time to write individually to the Foundation and to rescind your membership in the Library Associates; we appreciate your efforts.

Thursday, September 12
The Petition in Support of ALOUD is delivered to Gwen Miller, the Chair of the Library Foundation Board, and to the Mayor’s office. At the time it contained over 800 signatures of writers, readers and other members of the literary community. The number of signers is now up to 994. To date, the Library Foundation has never acknowledged the Petition. Neither has the Mayor’s Office, any of the 15 City Councilmembers, or the City Librarian.

Thursday, September 12-Monday September 16
The Los Angeles Times,Los Angeles Downtown Newsand Madeline Brand’s “Press Play” on KCRW all report on the Petition protest.

Tuesday, September 17
Protests greet the opening event on ALOUD’s fall season. Armed guards escort protestors from the building. This was documented on Facebook by Adolfo Guzman-Lopez and others. Following that event, guards are present at each event, events are no longer live-streamed, and the audience is no longer permitted to ask live questions.

Thursday, October 4
Rigoberto Gonzalez publishes “What is Happening at ALOUD?” in The Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/books/la-ca-jc-aloud-gonzalez-20181004-story.html
He describes the bizarre experience of conducting a conversation with author Tommy Orange during the second ALOUD event of the fall season. Neither he nor Orange were given an advance notice of the personnel changes at the Library Foundation. He particularly notes his disturbance at the visible presence of armed guards.

Thursday, October 11
The Library Foundation issues a statement on public programming
https://mailchi.mp/1022cc43e7e8/reservation-reminder-lost-found-at-the-movies-on-485225?e=976003b067&fbclid=IwAR3lRwhHTe4h1vntvakmTgLM82Myo8p9Y66nDZHBCQLpBxrLRjzk3nHx_iU
The statement does not address the firings or the petition, and does not respond to the petition signers’ requests for transparency or a voice in its future literary programming.

Tuesday, October 16
Adam Leipzig publishes an investigative piece, “What Happened at ALOUD?” in Cultural Weekly.He attempts to get to the bottom of many unanswered questions, but the Foundation remains impenetrable. https://www.culturalweekly.com/what-happened-at-aloud/

Tuesday, October 16
Protestors stage another action, outside the library, before an ALOUD event. They point out issues of gender and age discrimination in the firings of Steinman and Moore.

Wednesday, October 17
The Library Foundation announces the hiring of Jessica Strand, as new Director of Public Programs. Ms. Strand has spent the past decade in New York. https://www.culturalweekly.com/library-foundation-appoints-jessica-strand-director-public-programs/

Wednesday, October 17
Author and academic Rubén Martínez publishes an Open Letter to Foundation President Ken Brecher, calling upon him to resign for mismanagement of this matter. Initially posted on Facebook, his letter was published the following day on the blog of the Los Angeles Review of Bookshttps://blog.lareviewofbooks.org/essays/open-letter-ken-brecher-president-library-foundation-los-angeles/

Thursday, October 18
Daniel Hernandez, writing for LA Taco, decries the plan to hire an out-of-towner to curate programming at the library. https://www.lataco.com/drama-at-the-library-prominent-l-a-writers-slam-foundation-for-hiring-new-director-from-new-york/?fbclid=IwAR2S-kbcgEKuJO1bsH8eAD76Yp9kdLVu4lp4QGIMz6HYe-X6hPERYfCa8ks

Thursday, October 25
Founder of Community Arts Resources (CARS) and CicLAVia, Aaron Paley publishes an Op-Ed, “Speaking Up for ALOUD at the Central Library” in The Los Angeles Times.http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-paley-aloud-library-20181025-story.html?fbclid=IwAR3BJkxpofiCiwM1Wo4rBc0iELHM1gD23AsqnJu_EigfQsIkPoEyN9a4g8s

The Library Foundation, a private nonprofit entity with a mission of providing financial support to the Los Angeles Public Library, demonstrates through its actions and silences that it feels no accountability to the public or to the Los Angeles literary community. This ad hoc committee is continuing to explore ways to call the Foundation to account, and your continued assistance with this is much appreciated. There is a Foundation Board meeting on November 1, the first since the firings. If anyone has contacts with Board members or with the Foundation’s funders, we would love to know that.

Other things you can do:

• Keep sending out the petition link and urging people to share it. It is bit.ly/aloudpetition .
• Feel free to share this email since it is one-stop source of info about what’s happened.
• Write a short letter to the editor at The Los Angeles Timesor comment online in response to Aaron Paley’s Op-Ed.
• Use the hatchtag #WeAreAloud.

Sincerely,

David Ulin and Hector Tobar, spokespersons
Donna Frazier, Lynell George, Reed Johnson, Terry Wolverton
Ad Hoc Committee in Support of ALOUD