Getting Rid of Library Books: a Rebuttal to the Berkeley Library Director

Roya Arasteh and nine colleagues
Monday July 13, 2015 - 11:05:00 PM

There is an art to every profession, and librarianship is no exception. Part of a library’s responsibility to its community is to cultivate a book collection. Berkeley is an especially diverse, dynamic, well-read community that values books, and demands a great depth and breadth in its library collection, different from your ‘average’ U.S. city. Indeed, this is one of the reasons people flock here.

Part of the art of librarianship is to “weed” or “cull” items from the collection. No one disputes this necessity. A recent (June 23, 2015 (http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2015/06/managing-libraries/the-art-of-weeding-collection-management/#_ ) Library Journal article, “The Art of Weeding: Collection Management,” states: “You can’t make weeding decisions solely off of paper {i.e. statistics}. Things circulate that shouldn’t. Things don’t circulate that should. Old things should be considered on an individual basis, not weeded simply because they are old.” It’s too bad the Berkeley Public Library Director and Collection Development Manager have decided that every book that has not been checked-out in three years must go (reprieve for art and music books to 10 years).  

The Library Journal article also states, “even the most accurate algorithms’ list can benefit from a double check from a trained librarian’s eye, as certain titles (classics, local interest, backlist for authors about to release a new title…) may be worth keeping on the shelves in spite of low-traffic track records-especially if yours is the only library in your consortium or library loan pool to retain a copy.” It’s too bad that at our public library literally THOUSANDS and thousands of books have been weeded without this double check. How can we know this? The new Library Director, Jeff Scott, assures us “we look at the content (is it relevant), publisher date (it is still current), condition of the book, and its relation to other books in the collection.” Based on the sheer volume of books deleted since April, there is no way these books could be “reviewed for content and relation to the collection” by only two managers and a few helpers who took over this important task. Prior to M 34 subject-specialist librarians did this job. Since the rapid, rampant ‘weeding’ (better said “clearcutting”) began, these public-desk librarians were told their trained eyes were not longer needed. 

The “Art of Weeding” recommends that “spending time in the stacks with the titles is a must. It’s also a great way to get, and stay, familiar with the collection—good, bad, and ugly. Making a habit of roaming regularly will make sure a librarian always has a feel for what’s on the shelves.” It is too bad for all of us that those making decisions about our books sit in their offices and don’t work the public desks. 

The article makes a good point, one echoed by a number of library users we met recently on the steps of the Central library: “…history students may need access to out-of-date material for the insight it brings to the mind-set current at the time it was published.” It’s too bad these books don’t fall into the director’s “still current” category. 

There is still time for us to learn from what happened at New York Public Library (http://www.npr.org/2015/06/24/416780087/patience-and-fortitude-and-the-fight-to-save-nycs-storied-public-library). Let us do all we can, to halt the irresponsible gutting of our library collection. We don’t want a library that looks like a bookstore with more copies of popular items and more empty shelf-space for that “clean” look. We want diverse content in our library.  

Call on the City Council to place an immediate moratorium on this heavy hemorrhaging of our library. A conservative estimate has the toll between 5,000- 7,500 books discarded per month, well over four times the monthly rate of discards from 2014. At this rate, there is not one moment to lose. Tell Director Jeff Scott that we want artful, professional weeding, and as Library Journal says: 

“Going slowly and carefully is better for the collection, better for users.” 

Tell the Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) to call an emergency meeting (otherwise they will not meet until September 9th reinstate the subject-specialist public-service desk librarians into their jobs as custodians of our collection. And check-out books while you still can…especially poetry, history, and music scores. 

Send your letters to:mayor@cityofberkeley.info,lmaio@cityofberkeley.info,dmoore@cityofberkeley.info, manderson@cityofberkeley.info, jarreguin@cityofberkeley.info,lcapitelli@cityofberkeley.info,swengraf@cityofberkeley.info,ldroste@cityofberkeley.info, kworthington@cityofberkeley.info,bolt@ci.berkeley.ca.us,jscott@cityofberkeley.info 



Roya Arasteh, Berkeley Public Library former staff, 18 years of service 

Evelyn Gahtan, Berkeley Public Library former staff, 60 years of service 

Ying Lee, Former Trustee of Library Board, Former Councilmember, Former Aide to Congressman Ron Dellums 

Anne-Marie Miller, Berkeley Public Library former staff, 40 years of service 

Pat Mullan, Berkeley Public Library former Head of Art & Music Dept. 25 years of service 

Lynn Murdock, Berkeley Public Library former staff, 32 years of service 

NK Nomura, Berkeley Public Library former staff 22 years of service 

Cheryl Palmer, Berkeley Public Library former staff, 33 years of service 

Jane Scantlebury, Berkeley Public Library former staff, 25 years of service 

Andrea Segall, Berkeley Public Library former staff 18 years of service, 33 years as reference librarian 

Dave Segall, Oakland Public Library, former staff, 20 years of service