I guess it’s the week for small town library drama, although I’m not sure this one would make a good movie of the week. Maybe a brief spot on 60 Minutes.
A kind reader sent this article criticizing a weeding project at a public library in Urbana, IL. The title gives a good indication of the tone: “Do you ever read any of the books you [weed]?”
Apparently, that would be a “no.” The money quote from the library director: “I probably haven’t looked at the collection for thirty years because that’s not my job; somebody else beneath me does that.”
You can read the article, but here’s the gist. The library director wanted to weed as many books as possible to prepare for a project to insert RFID tags in library books. After all, you don’t want to tag books and then have to weed them later just because they might be popular at the moment.
So she created a spreadsheet of every non-fiction book in the library that hadn’t circulated for ten years or more.
No, wait, that might have been the sensible move. Public libraries often weed based on circulation data. If it’s not popular, it’s out of there!
Instead, the spreadsheet was of every book published before 2003, regardless of circulation.
Then while the Head of Adult Services was gone, the director had twelve part-timers hired to do the RFID tagging start early and pull the books from the shelves, where they were then boxed up and sent off to Better World Books.
According to the article, “more than half the collection was weeded in one day.”
Well, that’s efficient. It seems that thousands of books were shipped off before anyone official could or would do anything about it.
According to one letter,
Shelvers today are weeding the 700s — the art collection. About 70% of art books from 700–740 are gone. The $300 two-volume Art of Florence is gone; the Pritzker prize winners in architecture are gone; the History of Art by Janson is gone. Deb does not care if they circulate or not. She decided without staff input or support to do this.
On Monday (June 10), the gardening, home repair and remodeling, and foreign language areas went. So we lost lots of international language-English dictionaries as well. The gardening collection was one of the strongest in the state.
That’s a well chosen list. It’s not like language dictionaries are out of date in ten years. And unless you’re living in a space pod, those gardening and home repair books are probably still pretty useful, and might even circulate. And Janson’s History of Art? Blasphemy!
Apparently, the date of publication of the book was but one of seven “criteria for weeding” that are the official criteria for the library:
- Physical condition
- Frequency of use
- Date of publication
- Duplication within existing collection
- Availability through interlibrary loan
- Long-term, historical significance or interest
- Cooperative collection agreements or collection strengths
That seems like a sensible weeding policy. Pity it wasn’t followed.
Or was it? There’s a follow up article as well in which we find the director
bravely accepting responsibility for the problem and promising to correct it blaming everyone else in sight.
She’s the Captain and everyone else in the library is Cool Hand Luke. The message: what we have here is a failure to communicate!
Despite a dozen workers she hired removing books from the shelves willy nilly, apparently she “didn’t know that was happening.”
The proper political response, of course, is to answer every question with, “I have no recollection of those events,” and then you don’t get caught when your statements contradict themselves.
She probably won’t be fired, since unlike the director in Round Lake she didn’t fire anyone, and since according to the follow up article the books are being shipped back to the library for a proper review.
But based on that performance, I’d say that if there weren’t ill feelings in that library between the administration and the librarians before, there probably are now. What a mess.
The good news is that’s where the University of Illinois library school is, so the MLS students there can have fun examining this controversy and its aftermath for years.