Critics Decry “Librarygate” as Berkeley Tosses Thousands of Books

Monday, August 17, 2015
Berkeley Public Library

Critics of Berkeley Public Library Director Jeff Scott have expressed unhappiness for months over the usually legitimate, though distasteful, process of weeding out books for elimination, claiming that tens of thousands of titles were being abandoned. At the beginning of August, Scott said the real number was around 2,200 out of the library's 450,000 books.

The director insisted people were “making wild claims, but have no facts,” and accused them of a “disinformation” campaign. Turns out the “wild claims” were on the low side.

Upon review, it has been determined that the library has weeded out more than 39,000 books, including 13,850 last copies (pdf). Oops. “I had the wrong information,” Scott said. “There was an internal process different to what I realized.”

That was enough of a discrepancy to earn the affair a catchword: “Librarygate.”

The protests have been led by an ad hoc group of retired librarians and other library users who unsuccessfully failed to get a list of the books being axed despite filing two California Public Records Act requests. They recognize that weeding books is a necessary evil in libraries, especially in this day and age of competing reading formats. But they object to the scale of the weeding and the selection process.

Scott, who came to Berkeley last November after two years as Tulare County Library director, streamlined the process by eliminating participation of around 25 librarians in favor of a small group of administrators. He told the San Francisco Chronicle he was “blindsided” by the protests from the staff.

Once the new, higher number was discovered Scott said it was still lower than the 53,681 titles that were weeded last year and lower than an average of the last two years. Not everyone is convinced they are getting the whole story now.

“I started out sympathizing with the library director, but every step I took it was just one more odd inaccuracy or things that were just not true,” Councilman Kriss Worthington told Berkeleyside. “I’m more alarmed by the repeatedly inaccurate information that has been sent out in emails to many people and the inaccurate information that has been said to me. I got told things that aren’t true.”   

Scott said books are offered to the Friends of the Library bookshop and communities before they are destroyed. That has been disputed. Former library employee Roya Arasteh told Berkeleyside in July books were being pulped without an attempt to recirculate and that the pace was four times faster than previous weedings.

Scott also reportedly said no fiction was being tossed, but that is not correct. There are books by Jane Austen, Kingsley Amis, John Cheever, Tom Clancy, Gabriel García Márquez, Zane Grey, Shirley Jackson, D.H. Lawrence and Doris Lessing, to name a few.  

“The Berkeley Public Library, once a destination library, has now become a decimated library,” former head of the music library Pat Mullan told the Chronicle. “We’re losing too many books.” They are also losing CDs, vinyl albums, MP3s and folios.

A cursory glimpse at the 13,850 last copies being cleaned out reveals a bit of what Berkeley readers are going to be missing:

• “The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging”

• “Knowing and the Known” by John Dewey, creator of the library system that bears his name

• “Bachelors and Bunnies : The Sexual Politics of Playboy”

• “Real Men Don't Apologize” by Jim Belushi

• “Between Hope and History” by President Bill Clinton

• “Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth And Treasure” by Glenn Beck

• “Soldiers & Sled dogs: A History of Military Dog Mushing”

One book that Scott probably won't miss is “A Library Board's Practical Guide to Finding the Right Library Director” from the Detroit Suburban Librarians' Round Table Succession Planning Committee. It was among 15 “practical guides” on the list.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:       

Librarians Furious as Berkeley Tosses Thousands of Books (by Steve Rubenstein, San Francisco Chronicle)

Berkeley Library Director Admits Vast Discrepancies in Numbers of Weeded Books (by Lance Knobel, Berkeleyside)

Obscure and Popular Books Part of Berkeley Library Weeding Process (by Frances Dinkelspiel, Berekeleyside)         

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