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LIBRARYGATE: Protest of Berkeley library book disposal

Lydia Gans
Saturday August 15, 2015 - 08:13:00 AM

Over 100 people held a rally in front of the Berkeley Public Library on Wednesday protesting the destruction of large numbers of library books. There are a number of issues arising in the administration of library director Jeff Scott which inspired using the term LIBARYGATE in calling for the protest action. Pat Mullan, former head of Art and Music department organized and chaired the event. 

When word first got out that the library was weeding out books it was understood that this is standard procedure for making room for new acquisitions. But it didn't take long for many questions to be asked - questions as to how many books, which books, most importantly, who was making the choices . It turned out that the choices are being made by the director entirely on his own with no input from library staff or library patrons. 


Pat Mullan spoke of how the Berkeley Library had always been a destination, now the word for it is decimation. Those words, 'destination to decimation' were echoed by several speakers. Mullan and other former librarians at the rally reported a litany of false claims, illegal actions as well as lack of respect for and intimidation of library employees on the part of the Director. 

Diane Davenport, former head reference librarian and past president of Friends of the Library reported that while the Director claimed that 2,200 books were destroyed, the actual number was more than 39,000. Furthermore his assertion that books were offered to the Friends of the Library book sale before they went out the back door was also untrue. Later she pointed to a library truck standing near the door with a box containing a sample of about 100 books. “Think of that multiplied by 360 to get a sense of how many items were destroyed” she said. 

Debbie Carton was one of only 2 librarians currently on staff who was not afraid to speak out. “It's not just books but also cd's that are being destroyed”, she said. “The most heavily hit area was the jazz collection, the jazz collection that has made Berkeley's art and music department well known . It was one of the best jazz collections in the Bay Area. Patrons would frequently say “I come here rather than to San Francisco Public because even though you're smaller you have a better jazz collection.” 

Several members of the city council attended the rally. Daryl Moore, the city council member who sits on the Board of Library Trustees was there. Jesse Arreguin added his voice as did Linda Maio who promised, “Not one more book leaves the library.” (Some people privately questioned her ability to carry out that promise.) Kriss Worthington gave an agonizing step by step description of his efforts to get the list of the destroyed books from the director, ultimately even having to show him how to access it on his computer.. Speaking of the destruction he said “It is a travesty. The librarians not consulted is a travesty. Books destroyed is a travesty. The biggest travesty of all is to the public.” 

Former librarian Roya Arasteh read a list of destroyed books, identifying many that were last copies. It was heartbreaking to hear her speak of books that might never again be seen. This moved some people to speak of particular books they had cared about that are now gone. 

Berkeley author Cecile Pineda talked of going to the library to get a particular book tthat she was interested in, “the Encyclopedia of Women Travelers of the 19th Century. Not only had it disappeared from the reference section, but nearly one third of the shelves gaped empty.” She announced that she is ready for direct action, calling for volunteers for an occupation of the back door of the library to prevent any more books being taken away 

Even though the Director claimed that his selection of books to be disposed of was based on the number of years that they had not been checked out, several speakers questioned whether there is a political agenda behind the selection of books being disposed of or if there is a bias in the choice of subjects. 

The community has been alerted. Berkeley is not a place to give up on its dedication to literature. Nor will the violations exposed by LIBRARYGATE be ignored.