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Updated: Berkeley Library Book Cuts Spark Petition

Rob Wrenn
Friday August 21, 2015 - 03:59:00 PM

UPDATE: Save the BPL Books has started a petition directed at the Board of Library Trustees and the City Council entitled Librarygate: Stop Senseless Destruction of Berkeley Public Library & the Director's Cover-up. The petition asks for an immediate independent investigation and asks that the Library Director be suspended or fired. As of 8:45 a.m., 477 people had signed. The petition can be found here: 

Upwards of 70 people rallied today in front of the entrance to the Main Library in downtown Berkeley to protest the "weeding" of over 39,000 books, CDs and other items from the library's collection and the treatment of librarians who have raised questions about the wisdom of current Library Director Jeff Scott's approach to this process.

Those in attendance were urged to return to the Main Library on August 26 at 5:30 p.m. to rally again before the August 26 meeting of the Board of Library Trustees which begins at 6:30 p.m. During the Closed Session portion of this meeting, the Board will evaluate the performance of the library director, who started work in November, replacing Donna Corbell who resigned on October 3. 

Comedienne Marga Gomez portrayed the library director in a brief guerrilla theater "dramatic reenactment of the mistreatment of Berkeley librarians". In her role she dismissed various concerns about weeding raised by "stunt double librarians" while shoveling weeded books into a wheelbarrow. 

These stunt double librarians later appeared with tape covering their mouths to call attention to what retired librarians involved in the protest say is an effort to keep current librarians from speaking up. At the rally, speakers referred to a "hostile work environment" and said that current and former librarians have faced threats and insults for questioning the process of weeding books. 

District 7 council member Kriss Worthington called for the Board of Library Trustees to initiate an independent investigation immediately to consider how many laws were broken by the library director in his handling of the weeding and the protests it has generated. 

Worthington stated that there is evidence that the director knew on July 23 that over 39,000 items had been deleted but continued to claim after that date that only 2274 items were involved. He also raised the issue that books were removed without being offered to the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library who could have sold them to raise money for the library. 

A number of retired librarians, including Pat Mullan, formerly head of the library's Art and Music Department, have called attention to the fact that 39,140 books and other items have been removed from the library's collection. This includes 13,850 "last copies". You can find a list of the last items, now no longer part of the library's collection here: 

Books that haven't been checked out in three years, even if there is only one remaining copy, have been removed from the library's collection with only at best cursory consideration of their value to the collection according to members of Save Our Berkeley Public Library Books. Art and Music materials are weeded after 7 years; large print books after 2 years. 

Where in the past, over 30 librarians with different areas of expertise were involved in the process of buying and weeding books and other items, weeding and acquisition is now assigned to only two managers with four helpers. 

In a post on Berkeleyside on August 4, Director Scott was quoted as saying that the retired librarians who have raised questions about the weeding are "making wild claims" and are engaged in a "disinformation" campaign. But it seems to this writer, that far from making wild claims, they have been calling attention to real problems. Former library staffer Roya Arasteh's estimate that books have been removed at the rate of 5000-7000 a month, far from being a "wild claim", has proven to be an accurate estimate, while Mr. Scott has more recently admitted that his estimate that only 2274 items had been weeded was not correct. 

For more information about Save Our Berkeley Public Library Books, visit their Web site: 

Save the Berkeley Public Library Books is also encouraging people to attend the next regular meeting of the Board of Library Trustees Meeting on Weds Sept. 9 at the South Branch of the library at 1901 Russell Street (at Martin Luther King) at 6:30 p.m. People are encouraged to arrive at 6:15. 

The group wants the board to "announce and implement a moratorium on rampant weeding". They also want the board to reassess the collection development process so as to include "actual input by all 35 professional librarians, not just two managers and four helpers". And finally they want "Report on Collection Development as Researched by Members of the Public" put on the agenda of the September 9 meeting. 

This writer is particularly appalled by the damage done to the library's collection of books related to labor history by the recent weeding and by the removal of books by authors who are current or former residents of Berkeley. I was surprised that they would delete the standard biography of Harry Bridges by Charles Larrowe. Bridges was leader of the San Francisco General Strike, and of the ILWU, an important West Coast union, some of whose members live in Berkeley. 

Shouldn't someone with some at least passing knowledge of labor history be involved in deciding which books in that field should be deleted? Does it really make sense to let just two people who can't possibly be familiar with the entire collection decide what should be deleted and removed? Shouldn't the library make a special effort to hold on to books by local authors? 


Rob Wrenn is a former Planning Commissioner and a frequent visitor to the Main library.