Much Ado about Much Ado's New Leader; after a Battle between Organizers, Paula Buss Took over an Event She Hopes Will Have Appeal for Everyone

Article excerpt

Byline: Charlie Patton, The Times-Union

From its inception in 1990, the library fund-raiser now known as Much Ado About Books has gone through many changes.

It's had two names, numerous formats and, before last year's event, a squabble among the organizers over who should control it.

That led to a change at the top of the volunteer organization that runs the event. As chairman of the Library Guild, Paula Buss, an accountant and self-described soccer mom, now has the responsibility of putting together an event that will bring 40 authors to Jacksonville and is expected to raise more than $100,000.

Although she impresses supporters as relaxed and confident, Buss admits she's been a little nervous for months about the 2004 Much Ado About Books, scheduled for Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 19-21.

"I wake up every morning having dreamed about [Much Ado]," she said with a giggle, something she does easily and often.

For most of the past decade, the person running Much Ado About Books was Barbara Kaplan, a member of the board of the Library Foundation and a charter member of the Library Guild, formed in 1996 to organize the fund-raiser for the Foundation, a private, non-profit group that raises money for the public library system.

Trouble began in 2002, after the foundation hired full-time executive director Michael Barile. Barile said auditors questioned how some Much Ado About Books funds were being handled.

Eventually, internal dissension and hurt feelings led Kaplan and several of her supporters to break with the Library Foundation. They incorporated as the Library Guild Inc., and Kaplan filed papers with the state of Florida to trademark the name and logo of Much Ado About Books.

That's when Buss, a member of the Foundation board as well as a charter member and former president of the Library Guild, stepped forward.

"When Barbara said, 'I quit,' Paula said, 'I'm not quitting,' " Barile said. "That really helped the Foundation board understand this wasn't all the volunteers, that it was really about a small number of people. Paula was very, very brave."

"Paula is awesome," said Mike Hightower, a member of the Foundation board. "She was one of the real spark plugs who kept us together through two years of dysfunction. Through everything that happened, she just kept saying, 'We can get through this.' "

Eventually, the city and the library Board of Trustees stepped in and brokered a deal. The Library Guild Inc. organized last February's event. Then a legal settlement was reached that reasserted the Library Foundation's control over the event and its name.

Buss played no part in organizing last February's Much Ado About Books, though she attended, just as she has been doing every year since 1993.

The next day, she began planning for Much Ado 2004.

Buss, a native Californian, said she fell in love with Much Ado About Books soon after she and her husband, Adam, moved to Jacksonville in 1993. The fund-raiser, then known as A Night of Literary Feasts, took place at Episcopal High School that fall.

"I was there for the whole day, and I loved it," Buss re- membered.

She was especially moved by a speech that novelist John Jakes gave.

"I loved what he had to say about the importance of a library to a writer," Buss said. "I had never thought of a library as a place to nurture writers, as a sanctuary, a haven, a resource. That's how my passion for this event was born."

A passion for books runs deep in Buss' family. After her mother, Joanne Sehnem, attended Much Ado About Books in 1999, she went home to California and organized the Ventura County Writers Association. Their fourth annual book conference is being held this weekend, and Buss will be in attendance.

Buss has enlisted her mother's help in organizing Much Ado About Books, putting Sehnem in charge of the author procurement committee. …