Community members rally against book weeding at Berkeley Public Library’s central branch

Alvin Wu/Senior Staff

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Retired librarians and other community members rallied Tuesday to protest the “weeding,” or recycling, of books at the Berkeley Public Library’s central branch and to support library staff in voicing their concerns.

As part of the new book-weeding process, which changed in February, librarians have been pulling many of the books that have not circulated in three years and deciding if they should be donated or recycled.

The library’s collection-development policy, which was modified to assign fewer librarians to the task of book weeding, came under criticism when a group of 15 library staff members wrote a letter May 28 to the Board of Library Trustees, calling for postponement of the new policy until librarians’ concerns about adequate representation were heard.

The rally began about 11:30 a.m. at the central branch on Kittredge Street. To support the group of “whistle-blowing library workers,” the protesters also brought whistles to the rally, which was organized by Save the BPL Books. UC Berkeley music Professor Emeritus Christy Dana also whistled a solo performance of a gavotte by George Frideric Handel for the attendees.

Pat Mullan, a former librarian at the Berkeley Public Library and a member of the group, said the group aims to request a moratorium on the book-weeding process and opposes any possible disciplinary action against library employees who spoke up at library board meetings.

“What’s gotten me alarmed is the fact that librarians were forced to go public because they were not being listened to. They weren’t getting any opportunity to discuss or work out a compromise, and so they were forced to go public,” said Andrea Segall, who worked at the library for 18 years. “It’s not something that librarians do lightly.”

About 2,200 books have been weeded so far, according to library director Jeff Scott. Books are first offered to the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library, which operates two bookstores in Berkeley, and then to Better World Books, a social-venture bookselling and donation company. If no one else wants the books, they get recycled, he said.

Scott said there have been no threats of any kind to library employees.

“All library staff have an opportunity to speak at the Board of Library Trustees meeting,” Scott said in an email. “There is ample amount of opportunity to question all decisions.”

Berkeley author Lucy Jane Bledsoe, who attended the rally, said she has used the Berkeley Public Library for her entire writing career.

“It has an excellent collection, and I often rely on it to find what I cannot find anywhere else,” she said. “If I want to buy a bestseller, I can just go to a bookstore, but I depend on a library that has an incredibly diverse collection of books.”

Contact Abdullah Mirza at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @mirza_abd.