“So a comedian walks into a library and decides to work there …"
That’s not my line. It’s from Meredith Myers, the self-described Standup Librarian who just had something very unfunny happen to her.
She got fired from a West Hollywood library job that she loved.
But let’s back up, all the way to Florida, where Myers discovered as a child that a library is a place to think, dream and figure things out. As an adult, she grabbed books on the PR business, leading to a 10-year career as a publicist. Then she checked out books on stand-up comedy and became a comedian. Then, about five years ago, she realized what she really wanted to be when she grew up.
Myers, 37, got a master’s in library science, but library jobs are scarce these days. So she volunteered to promote literary events and book festivals in Los Angeles while also developing her comedy routine. At StandUpLibrarian.com, she uses her story and sharp sense of humor to advocate for books, writers, literacy and libraries. Earlier this year, Myers devoted much of her volunteer time to fundraising for the West Hollywood branch of the L.A. County Public Library.
“She’s been a great volunteer who helped us at a number of events,” said LouAnne Greenwald, who runs the West Hollywood Library Fund, a nonprofit that has raised $7.3 million in four years for the new library, which opened a month ago.
West Hollywood Councilman John Heilman called Myers “a passionate advocate” who served as a host and comedian at fundraising events.
“She’s just really masterful at making literacy fun and encouraging people to come together and support something we all should be supporting — literacy, reading and libraries,” Heilman said.
Myers offered to be a volunteer at the new library, but just before it opened, she was offered a job. There was no opening for a librarian, but she jumped at the chance to get her foot in the door as a temporary library page, even though it paid just $9.25 an hour for duties that primarily involved shelving books.
Around this time, one of my colleagues, Nita Lelyveld, saw a news release announcing that one of the stars of the “Jackass” movie series would be signing up for a library card in a promotional ceremony at the West Hollywood Book Fair, where Myers served as a volunteer.
Lelyveld was not interested in the Jackass; we meet them all the time in our business. She wanted to meet the Standup Librarian, who was also mentioned in the release.
On the morning of Oct. 25, Myers told her library colleagues that The Times was interested in her story, and that Lelyveld and a photographer might be coming by the library the next day.
“They were excited about it and happy for me,” Myers said of her colleagues.
But later that day, Myers learned that library officials had some concerns about the possibility of a story in The Times.
A call was made to the county library’s official spokesman, Ken Kramer. Faced with the possibility of an upbeat feature celebrating a hip, funny employee whose night job included stand-up bits in which she promoted the library, Kramer offered this sage advice:
Myers could go ahead with the interview, but she couldn’t say that she was a page at the West Hollywood branch, and no photos of the library would be allowed.
Given her PR experience, Myers was baffled, but prepared to comply. The next day, her day off, she did an interview with Lelyveld and explained the restrictions imposed by Kramer. She then accompanied Lelyveld on a brief walk through the library, which Lelyveld was naturally curious about.
Lelyveld later called Kramer to see if he’d reconsider the limits he’d placed on the story. Not only did he refuse to budge, but within an hour of the phone call, Myers was notified by her supervisors that she’d been removed from the work schedule and would receive a letter in the mail the next day.
“This is a notice that you are being released from your temporary position of Library Page,” the letter read.
Myers called for an explanation and was told that as a temporary hourly employee, the library was not required to explain her firing.
Given this turn of events, Lelyveld realized she no longer had an uplifting feature story and asked if I was interested in writing a column about the situation. I called Kramer.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “as you know, we can’t legally comment on someone who’s been released, out of respect for the privacy of that person.”
The county’s head librarian, Margaret Donnellan Todd, didn’t add much except to clarify that, technically speaking, temporary workers are not “terminated or fired,” they’re “released.”
I’m sure that eases the blow for Myers.
Kramer sent me a copy of the county’s “media policy,” which orders employees to refer all press matters to him. So the library administrators must think Myers violated the policy in one way or another, even though she denies it.
But doesn’t someone who served as a volunteer and cheerleader, and helped raise money for the library, at least deserve an explanation?
Even before she cashed her first meager paycheck, Myers made a $150 donation to the West Hollywood Library Fund, so her name will be posted on a bookshelf. It was her first paid library job, she said, and she wanted to celebrate the moment.