Rally highlights discrepancy in number of books weeded from Berkeley Public Library

Julie Zhang/Staff

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Berkeley community members, former librarians and a Berkeley City Council member rallied Wednesday in response to documents that revealed thousands more books have been weeded from the Berkeley library system than revealed in previous estimations.

Some documents based on library system data reveal that more than 39,000 books have been weeded, while library director Jeff Scott earlier estimated the number at 2,200, according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who promoted the rally.

The rally began at 12:15 p.m. in front of the Berkeley Public Library’s central branch and was organized by Save the BPL Books, which organized a previous rally July 28. The program began with a cello composition by performer Luna Alonso and was followed by remarks from former librarians, reference librarians and Worthington, among others. There were approximately 100 members of the public in attendance.

Diane Davenport, former president and current secretary of the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library, denied that books had been offered to the Friends bookstore before they were sent to be recycled, as Scott had previously stated, and said the Friends bookstore received four carts of books only after Scott attended a Friends board meeting where the concern was raised.

Charles O’Neil, manager of library procurement at the Maya Angelou Library and Literacy Center in Oakland, also spoke at the rally. According to O’Neil, the Angelou library works to address the achievement gap found in schools by promoting literacy in Oakland and the Bay Area, most recently with a project called “Books in the Shop” that distributes book containers to various shops around Oakland. O’Neil specifically requested books that would be weeded from the Berkeley library system but said he hadn’t received a response.

“We kept getting emails from the public asking what was going on, and when we heard from several retired librarians with decades of experience that they were very upset and asking questions, we figured we’ve got to do something about this,” Worthington said.

According to Enrique Lopez, a high school intern who works at Berkeley Law School and at Worthington’s office, he and several former librarians derived a list of 13,000 weeded titles from library databases. In total, there were 39,440 items removed, according to Lopez. Worthington said Lopez deserved a great deal of credit for uncovering those numbers.

“If (Scott) was telling the truth, I would think this wouldn’t be a problem,” Worthington said. “There’s got to be at least 2,000 old beat-up books that somebody accidentally poured coffee on or are tattered and torn from decades of use. But 39,000 books is an awful lot of books.”

In a press release, Scott said the library’s earlier estimate of 2,276 weeded items in 2015 was based on books that had been marked as “withdrawn” in the library database. Weeded books actually are deleted from the system, which Scott only discovered this week.

“What this list cannot tell us is why an item was deleted. An item is deleted for any number of reasons. It could be Missing, Damaged, Lost, or Withdrawn. It also does not include items that we have since replaced,” Scott said in the press release. “This response is still incomplete. While I have a list of 17,794 titles that covers the time period of November 2015 to July 2015, it does not match the 40,820 items we have removed since January 2015.”

The new estimates are consistent with historical numbers of collection deletion — for instance, last year, 53,681 items were deleted from the database, Scott said in the statement.

“I am currently working on a new plan with staff to create a more transparent process that will make it easier to respond to inquiries with more accuracy,” Scott said in the press release.

According to organizer Pat Mullan, the group plans to raise further concerns at the next Board of Library Trustees meeting Sept. 9.

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