Berkeley Library Director Donna Corbeil to retire

Donna Corbeil gestures toward the new book sorting machine that was installed in the North Branch library in 2013. All the new branches have these machines, which has greatly improved the efficiency of returning books and getting them back on the shelves. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Donna Corbeil gestures toward the new book sorting machine that was installed in the North Branch library in 2012. All the new branches have these machines, which has greatly improved the efficiency of returning books and getting them back on the shelves. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Donna Corbeil, who oversaw the renovation and reconstruction of Berkeley’s four branch libraries, will be stepping down from her post as executive director of the library system in September.

Corbeil has headed the Berkeley Public Library for seven years. In that time, she oversaw the completion of a master plan for the branch libraries, which led to the placement of Measure FF, a $28 million bond,  on the November 2008 ballot. Corbeil then managed the renovation of the North and Claremont branches and construction of two new buildings for the West and South branches, giving Berkeley one of the most modern, energy-efficient, handicapped-accessible and light-filled branch systems in the state. The project was brought in on budget.

“During her tenure, the Library’s budget was stabilized, which was critical,” said City Councilmember Darryl Moore, who also sits on the library’s Board of Trustees. “Donna also implemented a series of operational changes that improved programming, collections and increased staffing.”

Many other improvements have been made under Corbeil’s tenure, particularly in offering more digital resources to patrons. The library recently unveiled a new web page that is more attractive and easier to use.

The library now offers patrons the use of iPads and laptops on site, as well as dozens of computers throughout the system. Library users can download free music and stream movies. Patronage continues to be among the highest in the state. Branch hours have been extended.

Donna Corbeil and Mayor Tom Bates share a moment together at the 2014 Berkeley Public Library Authors Dinner. Corbeil and the library staff were honored at the event. Photo: Richard Friedman

Donna Corbeil and Mayor Tom Bates share a moment together at the 2014 Berkeley Public Library Authors’ Dinner. Corbeil and the library staff were honored at the event. Photo: Richard Friedman

“I’ve very much enjoyed my years of service and I will miss my colleagues and the many residents I’ve gotten to know and work with daily,” Corbeil said in a statement. “But this is a great time for the library to make a transition to new leadership, and personally I‘m excited about the future – the library’s and my own!”

Corbeil, 58,  said she plans to travel, spend more time outdoors hiking, and with her family.

Corbeil has also weathered some controversy. A group calling itself Concerned Library Users brought a lawsuit against Berkeley that was settled out of court. The group wanted to renovate, rather than tear down and rebuild, the original South and West branches, both of which were considered architecturally distinctive at some point. The group claimed that the wording of Measure FF had only mentioned renovation, not rebuilding.

Berkeley agreed to pay $100,000 into a fund that could be used to renovate historic structures in west and south Berkeley to settle the lawsuit.

Corbeil came to Berkeley in January 2007 after serving as deputy director for the Solano County Library. Prior to that, she worked at the chief of branches for the San Francisco Public library for seven years, as well as in the Oakland Public Library. Corbeil got her masters of library science in 1991. Her 2103 salary was $187,669

The next director will oversee the library’s new three-year strategic plan, as well as remodeling of some of the interior space of the Central Library.

The Board of Library Trustees (BOLT), appointed by the city council to oversee the library system, has hired Bradbury Associates to conduct a search for a new executive director.

BOLT has approved a recruitment process that is “inclusive of the community and staff, with the goal to identify a candidate that is the best fit for the library’s needs,” according to Abigail Franklin, the president of BOLT.

The BOLT board was criticized for its search selection process in 2007, which led to the selection of Corbeil. Some union members and community activists felt the process was not inclusive enough. BOLT disagreed with that assessment, pointing out that panels made up of community members, library staff, and board members interviewed all the candidates.

The previous director, Jackie Griffin, had come under fire for installing radio frequency identification tags (RFID), which can track objects with radio waves, in books. RFIDs made self-check out at library machines possible, but critics expressed concern that the devices would allow authorities to track the movements of patrons as well. Griffin resigned in June 2006 over union-related strife about RFIDs. Berkeley paid her a settlement of around three months salary, about $35,000, and six months medical care. Griffin later became the director of the Ventura County Library.

Corbeil said one of her priorities had been to improve communication with staff and provide numerous venues for them to give input on ideas and proposed changes. She started sending out a weekly newsletter to staff. She said she also tried to slow down decision making to ensure there was broader input.

“It’s a really thoughtful group here,” said Corbeil. “We try to talk about the consequences of things and how much we can take on at one time. We try to work together and be respectful.”

Free events celebrate Berkeley’s revamped libraries (04.09.14)
New, $7.5m Berkeley West Branch library to open Saturday (12.12.13)
Berkeley Public Library South Branch: The Opening (05.13.2013)
Renovated Claremont library branch opens Saturday (05.03.12)
Berkeley Library stays relevant with shift to digital (02.25.13)
Never let it be said that Berkeley doesn’t love its libraries (04.09.12)
A peek at the renovations at Berkeley’s branch libraries (08.16.11)

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  • guest

    $187k take-home pay to direct 5 little libraries? What kind of pension does Berkeley owe this San Francisco resident after her 7-year stint working for us?

  • Guest

    Berkeley Public Library isn’t little and the Director’s job isn’t an easy job. Lots of responsibility, stress and long hours. Where she lives isn’t relevant, it isn’t against the law to work for the city of Berkeley and live elsewhere. Her pension will be based on all her 20+ years of service in quite a few library systems, not just Berkeley.

  • DisGuested

    I’ll gladly take over for half that salary and no pension.

  • sam g

    Sounds like sour grapes to me: regret not getting that library Masters Degree?

  • SarahSiddell

    I was shocked to read a notice that the Central Library, totally renovated only a dozen years ago, is going to be extensively redesigned and changed once again! The sign said the library is inviting patrons to participate in the redesign process. Instead, can we who use the library put our collective foot down and just say No to such a waste of money?

    This comes in tandem with kind of mechanization of library services that will eventually cost jobs; it invariably does, no matter what the powers-that-be say. I have also noticed in recent years that when I look for a book, one time in three or four searches, I have to go to Link, even though what I want is no obscure tome.

    I don’t know how much Corbeil has had to do with promoting the building/mechanization of the library, but it is certainly a direction many of us do not like one bit.

  • guest

    This is baloney. Automation of some library services–like self-checkout–is something many, many patrons want, and at the Berkeley library hasn’t meant loss of jobs, but actually preserves that in-person library experience that is why people love libraries so much: there are more staff to help people, instead of repetitively checking out or checking in books. Corbeil has mended many of the rifts created under the former director, while weathering the attacks of a vocal fringe like “CLU”, a “group” whose numbers were never proven beyond 2 or 3 people. From what I can see about the new planning process, the Library wants to right one of the wrongs in the earlier remodel, which is the miniscule amount of space given over to teens–an important constituency since the high school is a half a block away.

  • A happy library user

    Sarah, please take some time to learn more about the library.

    No one has lost a job at BPL due to any mechanization. None! But they have gotten the chance to do something other than the mind numbing and physically repetitive scanning of the huge number of items that get checked out or returned everyday. Do you realize just how many book carts of materials are moved in and out of the library everyday? It’s phenomenal, something close to 2 million items a year! The vast majority of those are physical items, although digital items are increasing. Do you realize how long it would take staff to physically check those items in one by one without automated materials handling? There used to be a huge backlog of items that had been returned but had not yet made it back to the shelf for the next patron to check out. Now the automated materials equipment presorts the items and makes it easier and faster for library staff to do the final sort and get them back on the shelf so patrons such as yourself to get your items. Those same staff people now have more time to actually interact with patrons like you to help you find a book or give you a suggestion on what you could read next, or maybe to plan an interesting or fun event.

    The Central remodel was limited by budget restrictions and a dozen years later there are things that could be improved. They are not going to tear down the building, they are going to look at what they might do to make it function better. Do you really think that is a problem? For more information on the project:

    Why fault library management for giving library staff and patrons the opportunity to say what they would like to change at their library? I’m very happy that they are doing it.

    I use the library a great deal. I have rarely had to order something from Link Plus, but I’m thrilled that the opportunity exists. Why should the library spend money on items that are rarely checked out by the Berkeley community if there are other ways to get those materials to those patrons? I’m so appreciative of the system that allows me to select items I want to check out and get a notice when it’s ready to check out. The library’s mission isn’t to make sure that everything you want is exactly how you want it. The library has limited budgets and they work hard to try and make those dollars go as far as possible. If you really think the library should purchase an item it doesn’t have, then use the library’s web site to make the purchase suggestion. Encourage others to do the same. The more suggestions they get for a specific item, the more likely they are to purchase it.

  • elleesttrois


  • Dorothy C

    I worked with Donna Corbeil when she was the Chief of Branches at SFPL and I was a branch manager. She was responsive to the community, worked in concert with the fund-raisers of the Friends of SFPL and valued the intelligence of her staff. It a word, she was “real.” In other words, she was worth her weight in gold. I’m sorry to see her leave Berkeley Public Library but hopefully any successor will have similar talents. Its worth it to pay the right person appropriately, to do otherwise is to invite disruptive mediocrity.

  • EBGuy

    Don’t worry, we’ve got a special parcel tax for that.

  • DisGuested

    She sure was paid her weight in gold. But how can anyone feel otherwise than delighted to be edged into poverty to enrich another well-connected bureaucrat?

    My understanding (based on recent job listings I have seen from around the country) is that highly trained research librarians currently earn, at most, $60-$80K. This scandalous salary is only comprehensible in a climate of total civic corruption and unaccountability. For shame.

  • Guest

    That is like comparing apples to oranges. Very different jobs and responsibilities.

  • Dorothy C

    HIghly trained “research librarians” are recruited at a base salary of $60-$80k straight out of library school. (Most of us have both an MLIS and one or two other advanced degrees.) In the academic setting, their salary is this same as an professor, as it should be. Ms. Corbeil’s salary as the head of Berkeley Public Library should be (but probably isn’t) equivalent to a college or university president. But, I have no need to quarrel with you. Very few folks would ever accuse a practicing librarian (which she is) of “edging anyone into poverty.” Take care, I’m heading outward for a new batch of books.

  • rhuberry

    A librarian in a town of 100,000 plus should be paid equivalent to a university president???? How much responsibility and big decisions are made by a city librarian?? University presidents are overpaid for the most part, but her salary as a librarian seems more than generous. I would say her job is not as important as a teacher, and probably much less stressful, yet she’s paid 3 to 4 times as much as your local teacher.

  • visitor Jawn

    Especially in Berkeley – relentlessly pursued by foil hatted nutcases and pillioried for every decision about everything else … ALL of Berkeley. Public service there must be hell.