There's something both marvelous and disturbing about the vigorous debate happening now (geez, I sound like CNN) between Jim Scheppke, an ardent supporter of all things library'ish, and Sarah Strahl, director of the Salem Public Library, regarding tens of thousands of books being removed from the core collection.
Marvelous, because I love it when someone who cares deeply about an issue here in Salem takes on the Powers That Be with fierce intensity.
In this case, literally, because as you can read below, Scheppke takes issue with what Steve Powers, the City Manager, is saying about the library's severe cutting back of the core collection (as distinguished from more recent "popular" books akin to what you'd find in a bookstore -- assuming a bookstore can be found these days.)
I find the cutting back deeply disturbing.
I'm supporting Scheppke's position for a couple of reasons: (1) he appears to have the facts on his side, and Scheppke knows something about facts, having been the State Librarian for Oregon for twenty years; (2) I know Scheppke quite well, and he is adept at taking on issues that he cares about with a pleasing blend of passion and precision.
Well, I just thought of another reason.
It irritates me when public officials like City Librarian Strahl and City Manager Powers double-down on their position without really engaging critics. Changing one's mind in the face of facts isn't a weakness, it's a strength. One that our current President of the United States lacks, I've got to say.
Anyway, as the Fox News slogan used to say, "We report. You decide." Below is new information Scheppke has shared with me where he responds to defenders of the massive removal of books from the core collection. I'll also share links to my previous posts on this subject.
Salem Public Library removing 30% of core collection. Resistance is mounting.
Library expert criticizes "core book" policy of Salem Public Library
First, here's Jim Scheppke's responses, in red, to a letter that was sent to the members of the Salem Public Library Foundation by the Executive Director, Kate Van Ummersen (I'm assuming she is the "Kate" who signed the letter).
Dear Board Members,Some of you may have seen a controversy unfold over the weekend on blogs and social media around the Collection Development Policy at the Library.There is no controversy around the Collection Development Policy. It calls for a “high quality collection” that reflects “the diversity of the community.” It calls for “adequacy of coverage in [all] subject area[s].”
It calls for a “varied and current collection covering a wide range of subjects and containing multiple points of view.” The policy calls upon the library to “deliver the broadest possible access to content …within … the library’s walls” and “to serve the Salem community by providing a broad choice of materials to meet informational, educational, cultural, and recreational needs.”
According to the policy, the collection will “embrace broad fields of knowledge with with basic representative works in most subject areas.” In summary, the policy affirms, “the Salem Public Library is committed to providing a broad and diverse collection."There is concern from some members of the community about items being removed from the collection as part of implementation of this policy.In my professional opinion as the former State Librarian of Oregon the new Collection Development policy is not being implemented, it is being violated by the planned removal of many thousands of books (the exact number is in dispute) from the library core collection.The mission of the Foundation is to financially support enhancements to the Library. We don't consider it our role to take a public position on the policy at the Library.Again, “policy” is not at issue, but the violation of policy. The violation of library policy by library staff — the removal of valuable and useful books from the core collection of the library — will no doubt seriously harm the ability of the Foundation to carry out its the mission to support the Library though voluntary donations from the community.Judy Martin, Bob d'Entremont, Past President, and I would like you to review the message below from City Manager, Steve Powers and the Collection Development Policy https://www.cityofsalem.net/Pages/library-use-policies.aspxThese documents will give you the information you need to understand the Collection Development Policy, its processes and goals. This policy was developed over the last year by our professional librarians. It was modeled on other policies from around the country and customized to the Salem community based on the needs of the community. This policy was reviewed and approved by the Library Advisory Board and was approved by City Council this fall.While the public discourse unfolds, we will follow the story, gather information, then discuss the matter as a board at our next meeting, December 6, 5pm Heritage room.My best,Kate
Here's the message from City Manager Steve Powers, which Scheppke also has annotated in red.
You may be receiving emails or seeing social media posts regarding the library and concerns with downsizing the collection. We will be putting this on the city web page.
Have you visited the Library lately? We’ve made some changes. More of your favorite books, movies, and music are easier to see and reach. Stop in and check us out! Can’t make it in this week? Check out our online resources: https://www.cityofsalem.net/library
Did you know there are best practices for managing library collections? We’re using data-driven, state-of-the-art systems to guide decisions about the collection to remove items that no longer circulate, items in poor condition, or outdated information (editions since superseded, or rapidly changing subject matter like the field of medicine). Managing the collection in this way frees up shelf space for new material, makes shelves easier to navigate, and identifies areas where we need to update or add new items.
I challenge the assertion that the books that are now being removed en masse are books that no longer circulate, are in “poor condition” or have “outdated information.” Most of the books being removed do not fit this description. The library staff has been aggressively removing books that do fit this description for at least the past five years. In 2012-13 the library had a book collection totaling 394,358.*
That number declined every year in the next five years until by 2016-17 the total stood at 337,373. In each of those years more books were removed from the collection than were added. So why then does library management see the need now for a massive book removal program? The library collection has been well-maintained and it has not grown, it has shrunk.
Shelves may look more empty than usual while materials are being evaluated, replacements are being ordered, and items are being shifted.
I have it on good authority that the library almost never replaces books that are removed from the collection. Our substandard budget for books and other library materials of just over $500,000 a year is not adequate to keep up with new publications, much less to replace books that have been removed. For comparison, the Eugene Public Library has a collection budget of nearly $1.3 million.
The Library’s Collection Development Policy ensures that discarded items are offered to the Friends of the Salem Public Library for resale, benefiting the Library’s collections and programs. A vibrant, current collection that meets the community’s needs also helps us get ready for the upcoming Library renovation project: http://bit.ly/SPLrenovation
The completion of the Library renovation project is still at least two years away. The work to design the interior space of the library has not even begun. It is premature to assume that the newly renovated library will have less capacity for books than at present.
The pruning of the collection is guided by the collection development policy approved by City Council and the Library Advisory Board earlier this year.
I strongly challenge the truth of this statement. It results from a very selective and false reading of the Council-approved policy. The policy calls for a“high quality collection” that reflects “the diversity of the community.” It calls for “adequacy of coverage in [all] subject area[s].” It calls for a “varied and current collection covering a wide range of subjects and containing multiple points of view.”
The policy calls upon the library to “deliver the broadest possible access to content …within … the library’s walls” and “to serve the Salem community by providing a broad choice of materials to meet informational, educational, cultural, and recreational needs.” “Pruning” the collection now by removing many thousands of books in the core collection is inconsistent with the policy. I believe it is a violation of the policy.
Per the policy, the Salem Public Library’s collection is a popular materials collection, with varied and current content on a range of subjects. The library’s collections are dynamic, with an emphasis on up-to-date and in-demand materials. In order to maintain a relevant, popular, and appealing collection, the library engages in ongoing evaluation and updating of owned materials.
This is not what the policy says, taken as a whole. Yes, the library needs “popular materials.” All public libraries do (unlike academic and research libraries). But that does not imply that large public libraries like ours should not also have a core collection of less popular materials that in the words of the Collection Development Policy” provide “a broad choice of materials to meet the informational, educational and cultural” needs of the community.
This also insinuates that to date the library has not engaged “in ongoing evaluation and updating of owned materials.” It has, and very aggressively so. That is why the book collection has shrunk by nearly 57,000 items in recent years.
As part of the CCRLS cooperative, we have access to resource sharing through the consortium as well as access to the rest of the state through Interlibrary Loan. We rely on CCRLS to help us get materials for our patrons just as other members can use our materials. Ultimately, our collection’s purpose is to reflect the needs of the Salem community.
When CCRLS was founded over three decades ago, the idea was that the Salem Public Library would serve as the major resource library for the system and for many years SLP was compensated for this (I don’t know what the situation is today). All of the other libraries in CCRLS are much smaller with much smaller collections. The average book collection size in CCRLS (taking out SPL) is only 42,000 items. These CCRLS libraries can only afford to be “popular materials libraries” and they have relied on Salem to provide a broader and deeper collection. If I were a user of a CCRLS member library I would be very alarmed at the idea that SPL is now going to become just a “popular materials library” and renege on its decades old commitment to CCRLS.
Getting books through interlibrary loan is a terribly expensive process that most libraries try to avoid. When you add up the true cost of an interlibrary loan in staff time and postage, it costs nearly was much as buying the book. It is not the answer to satisfying a broad range of informational needs. The way to do that is with a quality core collection, such as Salem already has, if library management will just leave it alone.
There has been no directive to reduce the collection by 30%. The 30% figure was developed in consultation with the State Library of Oregon Data & Federal Programs Consultant Ross Fuqua and a statistical study of nationwide peer library physical collection size. Mr. Fuqua assisted the City in not only gathering statistics but also helping interpret and verify the findings. However, this figure is only a single data point for added context as we start the processing of renewing the collection on the foundation of the collection development policy.
I did my own analysis of how the size of the print collection at Salem Public Library compared with peer libraries. I made a comparison to five other city libraries of comparable size in Oregon: Eugene, Beaverton, Hillsboro, Corvallis and Tigard.
This analysis shows that the print collection at SPL is 15% larger on average than the peer libraries. Beaverton and Hillsboro skew the average and it can be explained, I think, by the fact that they were established decades later than SPL and their collections are younger, and hence, smaller. This analysis does not show that SPL’s collection is oversized. It is about 50,000 items smaller than Eugene’s collection. I also did another version of this analysis to include e-books. When you do that, SPL’s collection is only 2% larger on average than its Oregon peers.
I also did an analysis of print items per capita. In 2016-17 SPL had2.08print items per capita. This is actuallylessthan the median for all Oregon libraries serving more than 25,000 population of2.33So again, on this analysis, any claim that the print collection at SPL is oversized, and has not been well-maintained for currency and condition, is just not true.
Timing of the pruning is important as we begin planning for the renovation project.
Again, I strongly question this assertion. Completion of the project is at least two years away. The interior space at the library has not been designed yet. This is very premature.
Please let me know if you have questions or contact Sarah directly. We are responding to library customers who are raising concerns or questions regarding the collection.
City of Salem
Conclusion: Management at the Salem Public Library has recklessly embarked on a book removal project that is in violation of the Council-approved collection development policy. It is based on bad data that apparently suggests that the book collection at the library is oversized and has been poorly maintained.
This is false. The library collection is not oversized. In fact it is smaller, on a per capita basis, than the median for other comparable Oregon libraries. If this project is being undertaken in anticipation of not being able to accommodate as many books in a renovated library facility, that assessment is premature. A design team has not even been hired yet and it will be their job to determine capacities in the renovated facility.
The book removal project needs to come to a halt so that the Library Advisory Board and perhaps even the Salem City Council can weigh in on whether many thousand of books representing the core collection of the library should be removed and made unavailable to present and future generations of library users.* All of the data used here comes from the State Library of Oregon.
* All of the data used here comes from the State Library of Oregon.