A group of retired librarians and community members gathered at Berkeley Public Library’s central branch Wednesday evening preceding a Board of Library Trustees meeting to protest increased “book-weeding” practices.
Protesters called for an independent investigation into ex-library director Jeff Scott’s alleged mishandling of a library book-weeding process in order to ensure that similar situations would not be repeated.
Scott’s resignation came into effect Tuesday after growing concerns in the community over the library’s increasingly streamlined book-weeding process.
“Weeding is natural and normally done by library experts, but BPL had a very automated, routinized way,” said Pat Mullan, former director of the libary’s art and music division. “These books were deleted from the record and sent out the back door and picked up by a company that pulps (them).”
Mullan estimates that the weeding process — which took place from January to July — cost the city’s library system nearly 40,000 books. In addition, the process was overseen by two managers rather than by the usual 34-person panel of library experts.
During the meeting’s public comment period, community members said that because of the weeding process, many library shelves around the city are now empty.
According to Mullan, protesters also called for the reestablishment of the original 34-librarian system and demanded that the search for an interim and permanent library director be a wide-reaching one that keeps the Berkeley community its primary concern.
In the midst of the ongoing controversy surrounding the library, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, has nominated the library for the 2016 National Medal for Museum and Library Services — the nation’s highest order for museums and libraries.
Many people expressed curiosity about Lee’s nomination, which comes in the midst of the library’s scandal, but others supported the decision.
“The library is a wonderful, precious resource,” said Roya Arasteh, a former library employee of 18 years. “If (Lee) knew what was going on, she’d still want to give the library credit.”
Scott has also been accused of “abusive behavior and race-based mistreatment of staff,” according to a public letter from current and former Berkeley library employees, addressed to the Board of Library Trustees.
Andrea Segall, a former reference librarian and employee of 18 years, alleged that Scott threatened staff members with “consequences” in order to prevent them from going to the library board’s meetings and from speaking to the public about the weeding process.
But Sarah Dentan, who will serve as acting library director until the Board of Library Trustees finds an interim director, stressed that misinformation has been circulated about Scott’s resignation and the book-weeding process.
“We are using lists to review books, but not everything is necessarily removed at this point,” Dentan said.
Ultimately, some books that have been ruined by misuse or are outdated, Dentan said, will still have to be removed. Dentan also refutes the estimate that, allegedly, 40,000 books have been weeded and pulped thus far, adding that a “more accurate number” is still being calculated.
During the meeting, Dentan also said that less than 1 percent of collected books are ultimately pulped.
“Our books that we are no longer using are sold to thrift stores, and the money goes to fund job training and soup kitchens and drop-in homeless shelter for women, men and children,” Dentan said.