Recent collection development policy changes transformed the weeding policy and process at the Berkeley (California) Public Library (BPL) to a more centralized method. This change has ruffled feathers in the community. In July, a group of about 30 protesters, consisting of retired librarians and community members, gathered in front of the library to encourage patrons to check out 50 items, which is the max number of checkouts allowed. The protesters intended this move to save some of the books that would otherwise be weeded out, as well as to protest the changes in the weeding policy and related changes in staffing.
Weeding or “deaccession” is a standard all librarians are familiar with. Following the CREW (Continuous Review Evaluation Weeding) guidelines, items at libraries need to be removed or replaced in order to make room for new titles as well as items in good condition. However, when a library has not properly weeded items in many years, and when a centralized plan of action is put into play, many community members and professionals in the field cry foul play. This is not just something that BPL is currently under fire for; many public libraries have had to deal with backlash when large numbers of books are removed.
The Urbana Free Library in Urbana, Illinois, another community with a large and well-known academic environment, was criticized for a similar large-scale weeding project back in 2013. That summer was known as “#bookgate” in Urbana. I called and spoke directly with Celeste Choate, who has served as executive director at Urbana Free Library (UFL) since April of 2014. She expressed that the removal of books is a really complicated situation that leaves emotions running high amongst community members. Although there was a negative response to the UFL weeding procedure, two years later it appears that the community does trust the library. Choate stated that even above how much librarians love books, they love their patrons more. So what can public libraries do to try to keep emotions at bay? Be as transparent and open as possible and be ready to have a conversation with the community at large. Beyond that, it’s important to keep a consistent and centralized collection development policy that’s approved by the Library Board. Jeff Scott, director of the Berkeley Public Library, seemed to be doing just that, but it wasn’t enough. A petition asking for the removal of Scott was signed by over one thousand people, leading to his recent resignation.
Additional Sources used: http://www.berkeleyside.com/2015/07/08/berkeley-library-fans-voice-concern-over-weeding-of-books/