Berkeley Public Library removes outdated books, causing staff complaint

Alvin Wu/Senior Staff

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In a deaccession, or “weeding” process, the Berkeley Public Library’s Central Library is recycling books that are in poor condition, are out of date or have a low circulation record.

Books that have not circulated in three years are pulled for review, and librarians decide which books are to be removed and either donated or recycled. The weeding process came with a change in the collection development policy, and the director of the library delegated the task to a team of six librarians, who will be responsible for the selection and maintenance of the collections. The deaccession began in January.

Reference department librarian Tom Dufour and 14 other library staff members expressed their concerns in a letter to the city’s Board of Library Trustees during its May 28 meeting, referencing the replacement of 34 professional librarians — the number that used to complete the weeding — with two full-time librarians and four others with partial input, who cannot “duplicate the knowledge, experience, and quality of all the other librarians,” according to the letter.

“(The new policy) takes jobs that so many people did and gives them to so few people,” Dufour said. “(Weeding) is a huge amount of work.”

According to Jeff Scott, director of library services, special librarians will go through the books and make assessments about why the books have not been circulating. The librarians will remove books that the community does not want, are out of date or are in poor condition. Scott said the list can also be an informational tool used for ordering new and different books.

“It’s a normal process of providing the books to the people of Berkeley,” Scott said.

According to Scott, the process is carried out by a collection development team of active librarians who are familiar with the children, teen, adult-fiction and nonfiction collections.

Roya Arasteh, former librarian at the Berkeley Public Library, said that weeding is important for a good library collection. But “when things go as fast as they are going now, there is no possibility for trained librarians to look at what’s worth keeping,” Arasteh said.

Scott explained that currently, the staff has too many tasks, including maintaining open hours, programming, outreach and desk service. The collection development team was reduced for efficiency, but the staff will still have input on the order of the process, Scott said.

“The essence of library is that it have books that people can use,” Dufour said. “It would be a strange argument to make to say you don’t have time to do this.”

According to Dufour, for decades, each librarian has been assigned a small part of the collection and develops an expertise in the field or subject. With fewer people engaged in the weeding, the library collection will become less complete, as the librarians won’t buy books that they find disagreeable or that they are not personally exposed to.

“It will be, in general, a less diverse collection,” Dufour said. “Any kind of interest outside of mainstream interest, there will be less and less for them at the library.”

According to Gerry Garzon, director of library services for the Oakland Public Library, different guidelines are applied to branches and the main library in Oakland.

“We recognize that the main library is used for research purpose,” Garzon said. “That’s why we are holding onto books that have historical values.”

In Oakland, the same librarians who manage particular areas also weed those areas because they are most familiar with that part of the collection, Garzon said.

Scott said the library is reviewing and weeding in the natural sciences, applied sciences, social sciences, arts, music and entertainment collections. It will continue with languages, literature, geography, history and fiction throughout the rest of the year, as well as collections in the branches next year.

Contact Tianyi Dong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dong_tianyi.