The Patten Free Library in Bath, Maine has found itself at the center of controversy after a long-time children's librarian was fired in September 2007. Library patrons, trustees and former trustees, and former staff traded barbs on the pages of local papers and a dedicated blog. In November 2007, the library's corporator board agreed to mediation with an independent mediator. Mediation sessions over seven weeks in early 2008 resulted in an agreement that was ratified by corporators last night. The agreement reportedly includes a provision to creating a library Ombuds position to which staff could "raise in a confidential and informal manner any concerns about the workplace, without resort to the more formal grievance procedure." (Maine Times Record, cached story; Portland Press Herald; Falmouth Forecaster; Maine Coastal Journal; Patten Free Blog.)
Clearly, this is a situation in need of neutral and independent dispute resolution expert who can provide confidential and informal assistance to a variety of stakeholders, someone who can facilitate conversation, de-escalate tensions and help surface issues. Kudos to the mediator and participants who were savvy enough to recognize the circumstances call for an Ombuds. Who ever is selected will find ample resources and support from colleagues across the country who deal with similar issues every day.