Sunday, December 16, 2018

Rumble in the Stacks: Library Weeding Elicits Strong Opinions in the Wild

In the campaign to stop or at least give visibility to the scope of the Library's new weeding policy, our former State Librarian highlighted several egregious or ironic discards. Once the story got picked up in the press, librarian twitter surprisingly had little sympathy. Although outside commentary was missing key local facts, and may have assumed Salem did no weeding previously, it also revealed a more lively internal debate among librarians about the scope and purpose of a collection.

The current effort at the Library had seemed obviously overzealous and that once that saw the light, on it a professional consensus would obviously emerge that it was prudent to throttle it back significantly. We should remember they eliminated the Reference Desk also. How was there going to be any debate? It seemed like a slam-dunk.

But out-of-state, this elicited contempt!
But no! An out-of-state librarian who was probably just reading the headline, and knows nothing of local conditions, but later did read more, yelled back "YOUR PUBLIC LIBRARY IS NOT AN ARCHIVE OR WAREHOUSE FOR BOOKS," and her response seemed to be endorsed by several other librarians, who piled on with surprising scorn. They were not very polite about it, and ridiculed anyone who might say "slow down." This is fascinating! To them, it was equally obvious that we should be throwing out books, left and right; it is only a benighted antiquarianism, or some such stupidity, that argued for restraint and a more careful weeding and retention plan. Surely our stacks are crowded and need thinning! Surely we are clinging to useless things!

This was a surprise to see.

In any case, the manual for the method our City Librarian identified she is using is available online, and contrary to the confidence of those outsiders, it suggests there might be a mismatch in its application.

The CREW system is for
"smaller community libraries and branches"
CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries (2012)
The CREW system and its manual "is designed for use primarily by librarians and staff in smaller community libraries and branches of larger systems."

Now, Salem isn't exactly a big city, but since we do not have a large state or research university here, with its own large library, it does not seem right to count the Salem Public Library as a "smaller community library." Ours isn't a branch, either. It's the central library and flagship for the Chemeketa Cooperative Regional Library Service. Or at least it should be, anyway.

"very few books...should be retained if not used"
CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries (2012)
On this reading, the certainty with which the CREW system argues "very few books...should be retained if not used by library patrons" seems misplaced for the downtown library - as distinct from the West Salem branch, for example.

Still, any library that committed to this system would also make a strong institutional commitment to recency bias and presentism. If a library is in some sense a guardian of knowledge and culture, that entails a certain conservation and conservatism with regard to the past, even if unpopular and unused. That's not necessarily in line with norms in business, customer service, or efficiency. But maybe there's a new Taylorism and presentism in Library Science. All of this is very interesting, and the twitter debate and scorn suggests a something of a generational shift in librarian norms and expectations.

"retain all books on the history...of the city"
CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries (2012)
Fortunately, the CREW system does recognize the importance of public libraries for local history, and it argues for keeping all local history, geography, directories, genealogy, and books from "most" local authors. So that would be a strong statement to leave the Hugh Morrow Collection untouched and perhaps even to expand it.

Additionally, the fact that the Reference Desk has been eliminated and an unknown number of Reference Librarians downskilled to Library Assistants should also get more visibility, and the staffing levels corresponding to the book purge may also need revision.

From here, it seems like it was reasonable for the new City Librarian to want to formalize a better weeding system, but it is also likely she erred with an overzealous application that weeded too much. It should be possible to have a new and improved policy for regular weeding, to create better systems, but also to be more generous with retaining classic kinds of works, even when unpopular and rarely circulating.

A new FB page and clearing house for information, "Save Our Books," says
The Salem Public Library Library Advisory Board will hold their regular monthly meeting on January 9th at 5:30 in the Anderson Room at the Library. This will be a time for citizens who are concerned about the mass removal of books to share their concerns with the Library Advisory Board. Please come and tell the Board that there are no good reasons to remove thousands of books from the library core collection. The collection has been well maintained and the books are needed to continue to meet the educational and informational needs of Salem citizens. Ask that the books that have been removed be returned to the shelves and that the book removal process come to an end.

Over at Save Our Books they've got data on the last five years of weeding. It's substantial, and certainly counters any suggestion that the Library was at fault in failing to weed. Discards routinely exceed additions.

via Facebook


Jim Scheppke said...

Thanks SBOB for making this important discovery about the CREW manual. I had not bothered to read it and I should have. We will use the apparent misapplication of CREW in our continued efforts to not only put a permanent end to the big purge (or what librarians at SPL have called the "clearcut" of the collection), we will also endeavor to see that hundreds of books that have been mistakenly removed in the past several months are returned to the shelves.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Glad this seems helpful! Also added clip with data on discards.

Ginn71 said...

Are you aware that some of the books that have been removed from the collection are books that were checked out and never returned by the patron? Are you aware that some of the books have been removed because their condition is such that they are not usable any longer - as in their spines are so broken that pages are not attached any longer? Are you aware that some of the material that has been removed in the last 5 years have been things like audio cassette books (books on tape) because they are not utilized as most people use either MP3s or CDs now? Would you consider keeping in your own bookshelves copies of the 2014 Oregon Bluebook? Or 5 copies of a popular spy novel that was checked out constantly for the first year it was out, but now has a circulation of 2 copies every year? Have you kept every single solitary book you have ever purchased in your life? Would you keep on the library's shelf a book on how to use LOGOS (very old Commodore computer programming)? Or a manual on how to maintain a Ford Model T? There is a reason libraries need to weed their collections - and not just to make sure the books are usable, but to make sure their collection doesn't have material that just will not be used. I won't check out a VHS tape because I have no VCR, but I'll check out a DVD because I can play that on my computer. I don't check out Stephen King's latest books but I"ll check out John Grisham's latest....but my older brother would check out King's books all the time but not Grisham's. Let the staff do their job. They know their collection, their patrons, and their job better than you do.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Ginn71, you have a straw man here. You seem to think the argument is an attempt to stop weeding altogether. Clearly SPL has been weeding and will continue to weed. The data show 178,281 discards and 121,302 adds since 2012 (and maybe more discards even since the first years' discards number is missing). Nobody is saying "don't weed." What is being said is "you are weeding too aggressively." Of course multiple copies of best-sellers from five years ago need to be weeded. Holy smokes. In fact, it is the staff who think the new library manager is weeding too aggressively. The staff do know what's up, and it looks like they have thrown the penalty flag and blown the whistle.