Urbana Free Library Aggressive Weeding Draws Criticism

The Urbana (IL) Free Library is facing scrutiny after the director, Deb Lissak made a "made a unilateral decision to weed books in the print collection by date alone," ignoring established criteria and without the knowledge of the Adult Services Director, Anne Phillips. Anecdotal reports indicate that the adult non-fiction collection has been weeded 50-75% and that the titles have been shipped to Better World Books

According to Mary Ellen Farrell, Board of Trustees President, a “conscious effort” was made “to find the most efficient way to get [the library] up to par as far as RFID tagging and … for the most usable [and] efficient things that … our library needs to have here as a core collection, and to identify things that are easily accessed, either from other libraries … or online.”

At least three staff members reported to Phillips that they were instructed to "[weed] as quickly as possible, even at the level of going through a range in 30 minutes of 2,000 titles.” That’s less than one second per book.

The details of this story are at Smile Politely.


Smile Politely has placed this article (sans stunning pictures of bare shelves) up at https://www.facebook.com/notes/smile-politely/do-you-ever-read-any-of-the-books-you-weed/101... for anyone to read if the heavy traffic slows their site too much.

They've put the pictures up at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151566880737648.1073741838.59287977647&type=3 for anyone who wants to see the visual part of the story.

Rogue directors are a pain. They have the power to implement dumb decisions. In our town the director went on a major weeding campaign. As a librarian I totally understand the need to weed but our library got rid of local history books that no other library had. The books were about the history of our town so they clearly fell into the mission and collection of our library. The books were actually fairly rare and they got snapped up at the FOL sale. Some of the books were sold online for more than $100 and at the FOL sale the library got $2 book.

Better World Books has responded to people saying that they are willing to work with the Urbana Free Library to fix this situation. Unfortunately the Library is still not responding to people's concerns, so we can only hope that they will reconsider and follow their culling guidelines. I hope everybody in the library community and anybody with ties to Champaign-Urbana will keep up the pressure on the Urbana Free Library to fix this situation and return any mistakenly culled books to the shelves!

The director has issued an apology, clarified the procedures, and assumed full responsibility for the incident, and initiated corrective action, including the return of a book shipment made to Better World Books. The incident appears headed to a satisfactory resolution. Certainly the library board and concerned patrons will be monitoring this.

HOWEVER, this incident raises a question about whether all books and which books should be culled when not borrowed for three or some other number years--a question that applies to any library, not just the Urbana library. I remember once going to the Urbana library to look at a book containing drawings of the artist Giacometti. I thumbed through it for a hour or so, appreciated that I could do so at the library, but did not borrow it. And sometimes a patron might take extended looks at several books, before deciding to borrow one for whatever reason. So maybe a book's "cullability" should also be in part be measured inversely to how many times it has been reshelved. With a new a RFID system, maybe this can be tracked. Again this issue is important to all libraries, especially now considering the technological changes now coming to libraries.

Here is the article that features her responce to the weeding incident and she blames her staff which I think is really crappy on her part for something she had decided to implement: http://will.illinois.edu/news/story/urbana-free-library-scrutinized-over-book-weeding

I've already posted on other sites how angry this makes me; not just Lissak's actions but her refusal to be held accountable.
However, here among my colleagues I must bring up another aspect to this issue that is even worse in some ways.
I've been a children's librarian for 10 years and I know (as all of us do) that "weeding is fundamental." I'm not one of the Luddites who is constantly trying to justify why books can not be weeded. Indeed, even in a newly renovated building with plenty of shelf space, my staff and I continually weed for condition and age. We often say that if a book is old enough to drive, it probably needs to be replaced.
We all understand that Ms. Lissak's disregard of the library's collection development policy is inexcusable, but what sort of message does this send to the average library patron.
All over the country, librarians and directors face scrutiny from the public for weeding. In the majority of those cases, the librarians have acted prudently. But what do Ms. Lissak's actions say to the portion of the public who believes that all books are *sacred* and should never be weeded. Or, conversely, to those who believe that libraries are just "book warehouses" and no one needs libraries anymore because "everything's online."
And what does it say, that in a town that has a GSLIS program, that the director had temporary workers doing tasks that should be handled by library professionals. How, after this, do we justify to our patrons and boards that staff with advanced degrees are "worth it," when UFL is using glorified volunteers to make collection maintenance decisions.
Not only are Ms. Lissak's actions a blow to Urbana Free Library, they are equally disastrous to librarians and librarianship. She deserves to be severely reprimanded if not fired.

I recently brought up this issue in the Calix listserv and sadly I have been met with way too much of "We can't judge our own" and this sort of attitude is making me embarrassed and saddened by the lack of professional integrity we should have.

Better World Books sells their inventory on-line and makes an enormous amount of money. Sure, they donate to literacy programs but many independent booksellers who rely on library sales also donate to their communities. Over the last several years BWB has gotten their foot in the door in virtually every major library in the surrounding area. As a result library sales have become depleted of quality merchandise and are often not even worth going to. Their goal (obviously unstated but evident) is essentially to dominate the used book market and squeeze out independent sellers. In doing that they have cheapened the used book market due to the fact that they are so large that they simply cannot provide anything that even resembles quality service. They barely glance at the books that they sell and good luck in trying to get your money back for a book that was misrepresented which is often the case. I mean "may have underlining or markings". Does it or does it not? Most buyers want to know. The UFL staff that worked with them are simply misinformed as are the other librarians who think that this is a expedient way of getting rid of their overflow. If folks do not start to put their footdown then book buying on the internet will only be taking place with the enormous conglomerates who have little care for individual customers and are only concerned with thier bottom line sales data.

At my public library we sell all of our weeded material at the library book sale and then ship what is not bought to BWB.

but I think they need to categorize their used books better. I got a majorly scribbled on children's book from them that was not identified as such.

We had a patron come in to replace a CD Book she had misplaced -- it was one we had weeded and sent to BWB! It had "Withdrawn from ****** library" stamped all over it. Terrible condition.

I think some libraries use BBW as a way to avoid the hysteria when some member of the public freaks out that they are weeding books.


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