If in fact I don’t work for the Buffalo and Erie County Library System, I sure am glad about it. You may remember it from last fall, when the upper administration of the financially troubled library began their staff day by asking how people would like to be notified if they were fired. Inspirational management at its best!
The administration seems to be stirring up controversy among the staff again by an aggressive policy of…wait for it…weeding books, and in a public library no less! Shameful!
I’m going to let part of the news article speak for itself, because it’s a well balanced, informative article.
Librarians say the Central Library is moving away from its commitment as a research library, hastily discarding thousands of books and degrading their professional roles within an increasingly demoralized workplace.
This would be tragic news if the Central Library was actually committed to being a research library. Is it? Not according to the mission statement. None of those principles require a research library. Though considering one of the principles of the mission statement is to“Create and maintain an environment that attracts, develops and encourages a diverse and skilled staff,” the mission statement might not be a cherished document (as a kind reader noted when sending it to me after the last time I wrote about this library). Still, point.
However, administrators say they are weeding large numbers of books to largely make way for a new tagging system while undertaking prudent changes in collections and needed staff restructuring during a period of great change.
Counterpoint. Hmm. Is this new tagging system so large that it will displace the stacks? No, it turns out they don’t want to pay extra to RFID tag so many books, so the answer is weed the books. On this logic, if they weeded everything, they wouldn’t need a new tagging system at all. On the other hand, how many old John Grisham novels do we need to tag?
“We’re looking at changing the Central Library from a combination research collection and popular materials collection to more of the popular, at the expense of a more complex and diverse collection,” said Tim Galvin, president of the Buffalo and Erie County Librarians Association.
Are they getting rid of their rare books collections? Other than that, is there much that couldn’t be gotten elsewhere?
“The policy seems to be diminishing the role of the Central Library as we know it.”
Oh, it’s diminishing the role of the Central Library. Is that good or bad? Good for administrators, bad for librarians, but what about the public? We don’t hear much about the public.
Galvin said the discarding of “thousands and thousands” of books from the library’s collection since October has borne that out. “They are greatly diminishing the size of the reference collection,” he said.
My goodness, we wouldn’t want to diminish the size of the print reference collection. This would go against the best practices of all, no, wait, that’s pretty much what every library is doing these days. Not much of a comeback there, but it might play well with the masses.
But the Central Library has been steadily moving away from being a research library for the past dozen years because academic libraries are fulfilling that role, said Bridget Quinn-Carey, director of the library system.
Oh, sure, she would say that. On the other hand, it might be true. I checked, and the University at Buffalo library allows anyone willing to pony up $50 to be a “friend of the library” and get a borrower’s card, and some libraries in western New York can get special borrowing passes for their patrons (though not the Buffalo & Erie County Library patrons).
She said she was not aware whether a disproportionate number of books removed in the ongoing weeding process were from the research collection. But she said the print reference collection is shrinking as more content becomes available online.
Ouch, she’s got the librarians there. Focusing on keeping the print reference collection isn’t good library policy.
Both librarians and administrators say libraries must weed their collections for books that are in bad shape, contain outdated material or are rarely checked out. The library maintains a “dusty book list” for books that have not circulated in five years.
If this is true, that is, if both agree on weeding and the 5-year “dusty books” list, it looks like another point scored for the administrators. Many public libraries weed books that haven’t circulated for five years; most research libraries don’t. Research libraries ship those books offsite so they can sit untouched for another century, at which point they’re not weeded because everyone has forgotten about them.
But what has happened since October goes far beyond that, with thousands of books winding up in bins marked Metro Waste Paper Recovery (now owned by recycler Cascades Recovery), said a librarian who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.
Far beyond that? I wish there were details. Thousands of books are being weeded, but are the books being weeded worth keeping? Being in fear of reprisal, if true, implies that there’s something worse going on than book-weeding. It’s depressing.
“One of the things we’re concerned about as a union,” Galvin said, “is that if you dumb down the collection, and dumb down the position of librarians, then you push us toward irrelevance.”
And here’s where we get to the crux of the argument, because he has a good point. Research libraries need higher level experienced librarians in ways that contemporary infotainment centers do not. If your library just provides the most popular books and magazines and DVDs until they don’t circulate, then you don’t need curators, preservationists, bibliographers, original catalogers, or much else besides. You just need Baker & Taylor and someone to run circulation stats. But is the public concerned with the librarians, or with the public?
Quinn-Carey said the entire library profession is struggling with redefining the role of libraries and librarians as public libraries continue to change in the 21st century.
Cliched, but true.
So, where do we stand? With the administrators who want to reduce research collections and the librarians who staff them significantly? Or with librarians who want to preserve print reference collections and their own jobs regardless of need? There doesn’t seem to be a good side, and maybe there isn’t. Given the shenanigans there for the past few months, I’d probably side with the librarians, but right now everyone seems to be talking past one another.