Trigger warning: if you love books, and hate to see them mistreated, you might want to partially cover your eyes when viewing the photo below. I'm sorry that this blog post has to be so graphic, but as the saying goes, A picture is worth a thousand words.
(And this post is much longer than that.)
Jim Scheppke, a community activist and ardent library supporter, worked for the Oregon State Library for 25 years, 20 of them as library director (this is the library for the State of Oregon, not the Oregon State University library). Today he sent me this photo, along with other information I'm sharing below.
This is how he described the photo of shelves at the Salem Public Library. Again, this is explicit language that may bring tears to the eyes of book lovers. But the truth must be told.
Red Alert Brian!
At the direction of the City Librarian, librarians have been discarding many hundreds of books since the beginning of October. She disputes that she told the librarians to discard 30% (see below), but according to my sources that was how the instruction was interpreted.
Here is the beginning of the Dewey non-fiction ranges just after the evil deed was done (they may have spread things out by now). They started at the 000s and have been through the 100s (including Philosophy) and 200s (including Religion). Here is what one range looked like when they were done.
I've boldfaced portions of what follows that seem particularly pertinent -- in case I've overestimated the willingness of some viewers of this blog post to read the whole thing, and they only want to read the especially juicy parts.
First, here's the message that outraged library advocate Scheppke sent to City Librarian Strahl.
Dear City Librarian Strahl:Aside from working with Judy Martin to lead the winning library bond measure campaign a couple years ago, I have tried to steer clear of involving myself in issues concerning your library. However, it recently came to my attention that library staff was told in a staff meeting at the end of September that they were directed to withdraw books from the library print collection totaling 30% of the entire collection.I am very alarmed by this and think it is bad decision for many reasons. I am prepared to advocate strongly to reverse this decision, but first I wanted to give you the opportunity to tell me that I am mistaken about this. I would be relieved to be mistaken. But if I am not mistaken, I would like to know as a Salem citizen whether this bad decision to discard 30% of the print collection was approved by the Library Advisory Board. I would also like to hear an explanation of why the administrative staff at the library feels it is necessary to reduce the library print collection in this radical way.If indeed the SPL is in the process of discarding 30% of the library print collection, I find this to be an clear violation of the recently Council-adopted Collection Development Policy that states: "The library provides information resources in physical and electronic formats in an effort to deliver the broadest possible access to content both within and beyond the library’s walls. The primary responsibility of the Salem Public Library is to serve the Salem community by providing a broad choice of materials to meet informational, educational, cultural, and recreational needs" (emphasis mine).My opinion is that the library print collection is not too big. On a per capita basis using the most recent data from the State Library for 2016-17, the Salem Public Library holds print items equalling 2.08 print items per capita. I think this figure is overstated because the State Library uses the Salem city population as the service area population. You and I know the service area population of the Salem Public Library is really a lot larger because of all the CCRLS cardholders.Anyway, even using the State Library figures, a collection of 2.08 per capita is below the median for all Oregon public libraries serving populations over 25,000 (27 of them) of 2.33 per capita. If the print collection were reduced by 100,000 the per capita print collection would fall to only 1.46 per capita. This would make it the 4th smallest collection per capita of all Oregon public libraries serving populations greater than 25,000.There are other ways I could argue that our print collection is not too large and should not be reduced by 30% (or at all), but I will stop here and respectfully request that you address the three questions above: 1) Am I mistaken about this? 2) Did the LAB approve a 30% reduction? and 3) For what reasons is this being done?I will look forward to hearing from you.Jim
Next, here's a message Scheppke sent me that contains statistics to back up his assertion that it is wrong to claim that the Salem Public Library has, on average, 30% more print books than peer libraries.
Fighting words! (For a librarian, at least.)
I also received some background information from Scheppke that he didn't want me to share directly. You know, sensitive "sources and methods" stuff, if you've been following intelligence agency goings-on involving the U.S. Congress.
Suffice it to say that according to high, medium, or low-level sources within the Salem Public Library, or maybe somewhere else -- don't want to be more specific than that -- there's reason to question the assertion you can read below by City Librarian Strahl that staff weren't given a clear directive to cull at least 30% of print books from the library's collection.
I will quote the following part of Scheppke's message that is shareable:
OK. That's Scheppke's side of the story. Here's how City Librarian Strahl responded to his initial message.
Dear Jim:Thank you for your question about our collection policy. You asked about whether there was a directive in place to reduce the collection by 30%. There is no reference to a percentage in the library’s Collection Development Policy or in any specific instructions to staff.I reviewed the minutes from the September 27, 2018 staff meeting you reference (which were shared in writing with all staff), and they say: “SPL collection is 30% larger on average than peer libraries. Sarah clarified that this does not mean that SPL staff will be asked to weed 30% of the collection. This figure gives perspective on collection size and that other criteria will guide any weeding that occurs (condition, use, etc.).”The 30% figure in question 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 SPL staff 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.The Library Advisory Board (LAB) recommends rules and policies to Salem City Council. The LAB members unanimously approved the library’s Collection Development Policy on August 8, 2018 with the intent to create a vibrant, current collection that reflects the community’s needs and current use patterns. City Council also lauded the newly-created policy. Collection maintenance is incredibly important work that is part of our greater overarching goal of having a modern, renewed library for the residents of the City of Salem. Our focus is on the collection’s quality and ability to serve the needs of the Salem community now and far into the future.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.The library uses best practices and industry-standard tools to make data-driven decisions about the collection. While working within the framework set out in the Collection Development Policy, we use the CREW method (a national best practice developed by the Texas State Library) to evaluate the collection which allows us to strive to maintain a collection that is vital, relevant and useful.We also use a product called CollectionHQ, which gives us use metrics, turnover rates, and identifies under- and over-stocked subject areas. With these outlined methods and derived data, we can identify items that no longer circulate, items in poor condition, and outdated information in areas of rapid change such as medicine. We also look for superseded editions, excess copies of previous bestsellers, and worn copies that need to be mended or replaced.In addition to renewing the collection, this type of collection maintenance also frees up shelf space for the constant arrival of new material, provides ease of access to desired materials, and identifies areas where we need to update or add new items.In preparation for the upcoming renovation project and in order to be good stewards of public funds, it is crucial that the library takes a comprehensive look at the entire collection before moving out. This will ensure only current materials in good condition and in demand by our community are moved with the library.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 consortial members can use our materials. Ultimately, our collection’s purpose is to reflect the needs of the Salem community.Sarah StrahlCity Librarian
With the book-ball back in Scheppke's side of the court, here's how he responded to Strahl.
OOH! I like that last sentence. It's pleasingly ominous, without being in-your-face attacking. After all, Scheppke used the words "I respectfully ask..." in the preceding sentence.
This Battle of the Books between Scheppke and Strahl is intense, but since they're both librarians, it's polite -- at least compared to other sorts of political/policy battles at the local, state, and national levels.
(Note: if you've read all the way through this post, congratulations! You've just read 2,344 words. I wish I could give you a sticker that says "I read a REALLY LONG blog post today. Have you?")