Jim Scheppke knows a lot about libraries. He was the State Librarian of Oregon for two decades, and a librarian for 32 years.
He doesn't like that the Salem Public Library is removing tens of thousands of books from its core collection to make room for new, trendy books.
Scheppke's opinion piece in today's Statesman Journal, "Preserve the core collection at Salem Public Library," struck me as well-written, nicely factual, and highly persuasive.
Here's some excerpts:
At the beginning of October, the management staff at the Salem Public Library launched a project to permanently remove as many as 100,000 books from the collection that currently totals a little more than 300,000 books.
As a retired librarian, I have many acquaintances on the library staff andsoon began to hear their anguish at having to dismantle a collection that some of them have spent a good part of their careers building to serve our community.
Library collections are a labor of love. There are many books that could be added to a public library and never enough dollars in the book budget. That's why for centuries, librarians have carefully and thoughtfully selected the best books with lasting value. What results is what librarians call a "core collection."It's what writer Susan Orlean called "a sort of cultural DNA, the code for who, as a society, we are, and what we know."
...So why did library management decide to remove books? City Librarian Sarah Strahl said it was being done so the library could put "an emphasis on up-to-date and in-demand materials ... in order to maintain a relevant, popular, and appealing collection."
I don't find this answer satisfactory. Salem is one of the largest cities in Oregon and the capital of a state with some of the best public libraries in the country. Can't we afford a collection of popular, in-demand materials while maintaining the core collection that has been carefully built for more than a century?
Sure seems like we should be able to have both, a core collection and a more popular, in-demand collection.
Since Salem Public Library Director Sarah Strahl appears to show no sign of backing down from her crusade to drastically reduce the core collection, more public pressure needs to be put on her. I invite you to email Strahl and let her know how you feel about what she's doing. (email address is [email protected])
I've been involved with Jim Scheppke on a number of community issues. I find him to be eminently reasonable, always backing up what he has to say with solid evidence. In other words, he's exactly what one would expect from a soft-spoken but hard-hitting retired librarian.
If Library Director Strahl has some cogent responses to what Scheppke says in his opinion piece, and also in correspondence with Strahl that I shared in a previous blog post, I know that Scheppke will consider what she has to say with an open mind. (The photo above showing empty shelves after the book removal process had begun was sent to me by him.)
When I hear from Scheppke that he's reassured the core collection is getting the library love it deserves, I'll stop worrying about the future of the core collection. I say this as someone who has written three books, and has been planning to donate a copy of my book about Plotinus, "Return to the One," to the Salem Public Library.
Now, my book about the teachings of a 3rd century Neoplatonist Greek philosopher is a good example of a "core collection" book with some mild "popular" overtones. Meaning, it's one of the easiest to read books about Plotinus, yet by no means light reading.
I have boxes of scholarly books about Plotinus stored in the crawl space above our garage. Most are exceedingly dense, as is reading Plotinus directly via English translations of his Enneads. I'd love to give those books to the Salem Public Library, along with the book I wrote, but I'd like some assurance that the library both wants them, and will keep them.
During my lengthy research about Plotinus, I made a lot of use of interlibrary loans. It was great to learn about another Plotinus book that seemed interesting, then be able to get it from a library far from Salem. Many of the books I needed for my research were old, of interest to only a few people, and hard to find.
So libraries were a godsend. Or, in Plotinian terms, a Onesend (the One is the highest reality in his cosmology; early Christian theologians appropriated much of his thinking, but not his word for what many would call "God").
This helps explain why I liked Jim Scheppke's opinion piece so much, and why I hope Librarian Strahl reconsiders her decision to remove so many books from the Salem Public Library's core collection.