On Monday, April 19--three months after he'd mailed the original
memo--Berman arrived at work only to learn that he would no longer
be overseeing the day-to-day business of cataloging. He'd been
reassigned, to the one-man task of penning a "Cataloging Practices
Manual" that would detail that county's cataloging operations and
circulate among the 26 county and out-of-state libraries. Put
simply, he'd been shuttled into a desk job he didn't want. The
staffwide announcement from HCL director Brown asked everyone "to
join me in congratulating Sandy on this new opportunity to expand
his considerable influence and leadership in the development of user
To no one's
surprise, the celebratory tone was lost on Berman. The posting was
the first he'd heard of the project he was to assume. All he knew
was that he was supposed to be in Brown's office for an 8:30
appointment that morning.
At the meeting Berman learned that Feinberg had been tapped to
take over his post, thereby relieving him of his current duties and
separating him from the devoted staff he'd worked so closely with
over the years. In the past, Berman says, he'd repeatedly suggested
to HCL higher-ups that they find a way to market the library's
subject-heading innovations. Compiling the how-to manual himself was
not what he had in mind. The reassignment, he figured, could only be
a demotion, a slap in the face for his critical January memo. "If
there was any kind of fundamental respect for me as colleague and
person," he believed of the decision, "it does not bespeak respect
or concern or consideration to impose this kind of drastic
reassignment of work without ever having broached the subject
beforehand." From where Berman sat, the project he was to undertake
smelled like "a reassignment to full-time toilet cleaning."
Berman told them to flush it. He informed Brown and Hennepin
County's senior human resources representative Tom O'Neill that he
regarded the move as retaliation for his outspoken approach to
library matters. He added that he refused to discuss the situation
further until he'd spoken with a lawyer.
Rather than accept the new role, Berman went on sick leave. He
tendered his resignation four days later, on April 23, effective
June 10. He would never work another day for the county he'd served
for the bulk of his professional career. In a final staffwide e-mail
message, he wrote, "I refuse to submit to any further muzzling,
punishment, and humiliation."
Berman speculates that his one-man publicity crusade has roiled
up enough attention to reach critical mass, and taxed his
supervisors' patience to the point of exasperation. Regrets? Not a
one: "Brown probably regards me at least as an irritant or a gadfly
in the system, and at worst, subversive." Still, Berman maintains
that when he sat down at his typewriter that winter morning in
Plymouth, he had simply meant to generate a fruitful discussion
about issues he believed needed hashing over. Hell, he'd figured, if
reasonable people can't manage to do that--talk, and talk some more,
when talking matters most--what's the meaning of free speech?
Brown, who has directed the HCL since April 1994, won't talk in
detail about personnel matters, particularly those surrounding
Berman's departure. He allows only, "I think very highly of Sandy
and his contributions to the Hennepin County Library and the library
profession in general." But, he adds after a pause, "For someone
who's in a management position, I didn't sense a commitment I would
expect in order to ensure [the transition's] success." Brown
contends that he thought the reassignment might allow Sandy to focus
on what he did best--cataloging--by giving him time to create a
guidebook to his methodology. "I really regret his perception of the
situation," Brown says. "He would have been the best person to head
up the effort." As for Berman's relentless campaign to publicize his
side of the falling-out, Brown admits that the outcry locally and
across the nation has been "almost beyond my comprehension."
Berman is hardly appeased. HCL management, he is sure, is
relieved to see him gone and the strife he stirred up settle. Of
Brown's kind words for him, Berman figures that "on one level that
might be true. On another level I believe that it is bullshit."
Dozens of cars circled the blocks around Sandy Berman's house on
the afternoon of Saturday, June 12, searching for a place to park
along the already jammed curbs. Guests--librarians, catalogers,
Sandynistas--spilled out Berman's back door and into the garden,
drinking beer, praising the bagpipe player, and, in not so quiet
tones, lauding the fact that Hennepin County's renegade cataloger
had not gone down without a fight.
During the afternoon Berman's ex-colleagues, on behalf of the
library system's union, bestowed on him the first annual Sandy
Berman Award for Social Responsibility in Library Services. The
citation pointed to his "many years of passionate service to the
diverse patrons of the library world" and expressed "gratitude for
his generous leadership, guidance, and inspiration." In typical
fashion, Berman managed to turn the celebration into a cause,
eschewing gifts in favor of encouraging attendees to make donations
to the Emergency Food Shelf. His guests raised $1,124 for the
The following week, Hennepin County's senior human resources
representative sent Berman a short note. "Dear Sandy," it read.
"Congratulations on your retirement from the Hennepin County
Library, Cataloging Section. I wish you well as you retire after 26
years. Enclosed is a letter opener as a token of appreciation."
Berman took the gift out back to the garden, where he "plunged it
into a piece of rotting wood," not too far from the Remington.