The Salem Public Library, under pressure from city councilors and residents, has stopped a campaign to discard underused books from its shelves until next year.
A review of books under a so-called collection development policy was implemented earlier this year, geared toward making sure city librarians are stocking books readers regularly check out and nixing those that could be underused or damaged beyond repair.
The review was supposed to start in October and continue until around April 2019, according to city officials.
A list shared with the Statesman Journal by opponents of the collection development policy showed more than 1,000 nonfiction items removed from shelves.
Still, "this is a list that also has items that were in missing status that were moved into discard status as a part of database cleanup," City Librarian Sarah Strahl said.
"We don’t know which or how many items" have been pulled from shelves specifically under the collection development policy, she said.
Councilors Chris Hoy and Sally Cook on Tuesday urged the city library to stop "so that we can have a full public airing of the issues where everyone has a chance to weigh in and so we can consider any needed adjustments to the policy," Hoy said on social media this week.
Library staff are to only remove books that are worn beyond repair until after a Jan. 9 Library Advisory Board meeting, he said.
"I was glad to be the voice for the concerns of many who have contacted me. We had a great conversation with staff and I think this is a good outcome," Hoy said. "I encourage folks who have strong feelings about the policy to be sure the Library Advisory Board hears your concerns."
Collection development policies are a common practice among libraries, from Hillsboroto Oregon City. The Denver Public Library in Colorado has one, citing "widespread interest and usage" as "the most powerful influence on the library’s collection."
The Salem Public Library's collection development policy is meant to free up shelves for new materials, with some 30,000 items being introduced into library's collection every year, according to city officials.
Salem's library sees high foot traffic, with some 1,600 users checking out approximately 3,700 items a day, according to city data.
The policy struck a nerve with library users like former Oregon State Librarian Jim Scheppke, who argued the library should stock popular tomes while preserving a collection that's been carefully crafted over the years.
"The core collection that has been built by generations of professional librarians like my wife is now being destroyed with the latest book removal project," Scheppke told the Statesman Journal. "There is no polite way to put it."
The Salem Public Library manages a print collection of more than 337,000 print items, per the latest count from the State Library of Oregon.
Strahl, who took the helm at Salem Public Library in May, said library staff are trying to meet the community's needs with the collection development policy.
"We know that some of our collection's not being used," Strahl said inside her office. "The real purpose of having a collection development policy and applying is having a collection that's shaped by the community and meets their needs."
Another issue is keeping books in good shape. Strahl showed an internal training document that instructs staff to pull any books that have, for instance, mold, water damage, chewed pages, missing pages or smoke damage.
The same document said items with warped, broken or split spines, missing cover art and scratched disks might be reparable.
To the policy, "I have to say that this is something that should have been happening all along," Strahl said. "It's actually pretty normal library practice to have a collection development policy and to apply it to the collection on a routine schedule."
Because Salem had collection development as a practice and not a policy meant that maintenance wasn't been done with consistency, she said. "It's deferred maintenance, basically," she said. "That's what we're doing."
Scheppke didn't buy the "deferred maintenance" line. "Our current city librarian is not the first to take a very aggressive approach to maintaining the collection."
Citing state library data, Scheppke claimed several thousand books have already been removed from the library in recent years.
Should more be discarded, "it will be a disaster and a colossal waste of city assets," Scheppke said.
The Salem Public Library Advisory Board is expected to meet 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 9 in the Main Library Board Room at 585 Liberty St. SE in Salem.
Here is a city of Salem list of selection criteria for donated and purchased library materials, though the city's website states items don't have to meet all the criteria to become part of the library collection:
- Popular interest
- Contemporary significance
- Currency of information
- Local emphasis
- Creative, literary, or technical quality
- Relationship to other materials and adequacy of coverage in subject area
- Significance of item within subject area
- Professional reviews from a variety of sources
- Format and ease of use
- Cost and availability
- Availability of copies in the system and relationship to materials in other area libraries
- Physical appearance and condition
- Space limitations
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