Library ‘weeding’? Or ‘clear-cutting’?

Luis J. Gonzalez, dean of libraries at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, in his Stapleton Library office, Sept. 7, 2017. Photo by Logan Hullinger.

By Logan Hullinger

INDIANA — More than a third of the books in Stapleton Library are scheduled to be removed in less than two years. But the library dean, librarians and faculty members aren’t on the same page about how – and whether — to do it.

Weeding — the process of culling uncirculated books from a library — will remove 172,161 of the 486,000 books in IUP’s library by spring 2019, library officials say. That’s the equivalent of clearing out the entire second floor of the four-floor facility.

The weeding plan responds to student demands for more study space in the library and a decline in book circulation, said Luis J. Gonzalez, dean of libraries, in a Sept. 7 interview in his office.

“Students for the last three years have wanted more study space,” Gonzalez said. “And we’re out of space in the library. I’ve even seen students sitting on the floor.”

Books taken out of circulation will be donated to Better World Books, a for-profit book vendor with headquarters in Mishawaka, Ind.; Atlanta, Ga., and Dunfermline, Scotland. The company sets criteria for what books can be donated. If donations do not meet the criteria, and faculty members don’t express interest in keeping them, the donated volumes will be dumped, Gonzalez said.

The number of books destined for the dumpster will not be known until the library begins the donation process and faculty members sort through them.

The dean emphasized that some weeded books will remain accessible.

“The books will still be available through interlibrary loan,” Gonzalez said. “Libraries are changing from a pattern of ownership to a pattern of access. That’s the new library. And we don’t have the ability to do off-site storage here. That costs money.”

 

THE PRESIDENT of the Student Government Association, a group consulted by Gonzalez during the planning phase, said he agreed with the dean’s reasoning and praised the process.

“Dean Gonzalez’s plans to create more study space within the library reflects the students’ interests and requests,” said Brian H. Swatt, SGA president, in a Sept. 12 email. “More study space has been a constant request in years of focus groups, surveys and the like. Dean Gonzalez’s plans have been diligent, transparent and, most importantly, student-centered and -focused.”

However, when asked to document student demand for more space, Gonzalez said survey data, focus-group data and notes of conversations with student leaders were not readily accessible.

 

ONE LIBRARIAN disputed the dean’s reasoning and the process.

Susan S. Drummond, a tenured librarian and library faculty chair, acknowledged the cultural shifts facing libraries, including a need to weed their holdings. But she said she never has heard a student complaint about lack of study space. And Gonzalez’s weeding proposal failed to reflect concerns of librarians and faculty members.

IUP libraries faculty chair Susan S. Drummond in her Stapleton Library office, Feb. 17, 2017. Photo by Logan Hullinger.

“We should have had a committee of librarians and faculty to decide how we should do this,” Drummond, a 20-year IUP library veteran, said in her Stapleton Library office on Sept. 7. “Weeding is part of academic librarianship and should be a continuing process. But the way the dean went about this was wrong because we had no plan, just an outcome.”

Drummond said the library’s weeding process over-emphasized circulation – the number of books checked out of the library.

“Weeding is a rigorous process and needs to be based on criteria other than just circulation,” Drummond said. “Students consult our books for information, using them in the library, and do not always check them out.”

For example, Drummond said students remove books from shelves, photograph relevant pages and immediately re-shelve the books.

 

DESPITE OPPOSITION, the weeding process proceeds. Duties assigned to librarians include putting small, circular red stickers on all books designated to be removed from the library. With a Dec. 1 deadline to weed out all 172,000 books, and a limited number of librarians to mark the books, Drummond said the deadline is unrealistic.

Adjacent to her desk was a small cart of books with red stickers on their spines. Removing the books from the library’s shelves took her two hours, she said.

Books marked for weeding with red, circular sticker, second floor of Stapleton Library, Sept. 7. Photo by Logan Hullinger.

“If a librarian spends two minutes per title, it would take 333 hours to evaluate 10,000 books,” she calculated. “We work seven-hour days at the library, and that would equal 47 full days, or 94 days working 3.5 hours a day on weeding. The semester only has 75 work days.”

The dean’s December deadline cannot be met, Drummond said, and librarians could have done better.

“We could have done so much better,” Drummond said. “When you have a top-down leadership style, instead of a collaborative style with librarians and faculty, it doesn’t work. The dean has not offered a Plan B.”

A more democratic process would have saved money, too, Drummond said.

The university paid $17,000 last year to Online Computer Library Center Inc., a Dublin, Ohio-based nonprofit, to generate spreadsheets of books to be removed based on three criteria set by the dean: Books are to be weeded if they haven’t circulated in 20 years or more, are available through at least five of the other 13 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities or are available in at least 10 academic libraries statewide.

To Drummond, however, the criteria are “ridiculous.”

“The criteria ignore the condition of books and the expertise of the university’s librarians,” she said. “For example, the sixth edition of a book could have been checked out in the last 20 years and the tenth edition may not have been.  The spreadsheet would have me remove the tenth edition and leave the sixth, even though its cover was falling apart and the book was older. Librarians alone could have weeded at least 50,000 items if given the opportunity, just by looking at them on the shelves and eliminating books in poor condition or books of an outdated edition.”

 

GONZALEZ SAID he did more than enough to make the process democratic and fair for all faculty.

“The process and consultation started in spring semester 2015,” he said in an email exchange Wednesday.  “I have notes from faculty meetings starting on Feb. 10, 2015, when I started the conversations with library faculty about this initiative. These conversations continued and have continued since then.’

Gonzalez said the process would be more tedious with librarians in charge.

“The statement that faculty would do a better job in the selection of books was never recorded in the faculty-dean meeting notes,” he said. “Actually, it would be a tedious, long, and inaccurate process that, in my opinion, would not solve the space demands that the library is confronted with.”

Drummond said the consultation was one-sided.

“Do not confuse what my dean calls consultation with discussion,” Drummond said in a Wednesday email. “He has been telling us his plan since 2015 without any particulars on how it was to be accomplished, nor did he ask us for a plan or our input.  He just said we are doing this.”

 

FACULTY MEMBERS from across the curriculum have objected to the weeding process. Drummond cited the History Department as most likely to suffer from a loss of books.

History professor Alan T. Baumler agreed.

“I think this is a very bad thing, but not because history does not change,” said Baumler in a Sept. 7 email. “You can’t really understand how our knowledge of things got to where it is without looking at how it has evolved. Our library is one of the best places for students to do research specifically because it does have so many books and thus it is possible for students to learn things about the past that they will never get from a Google search.”

Baumler said getting rid of books is a bad idea, even in a digital age.

“I like the fact that we have more electronic resources,” he wrote. “But they are not a substitute for books. In particular, there is no good academic reason to be getting rid of the books we already have.”

IUP sociology professor Christian A. Vaccaro. 2016 photo by David Loomis.

Sociology professor Christian A. Vaccaro, a trustee at his local public library, also questioned the weeding plan in a Sept. 16 interview.

“It sounds like there should be a distinction made between what is considered weeding and clear-cutting,” he said.

Logan R. Hullinger, a senior journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a staff reporter for The HawkEye, is from Clarion. He may be contacted at L.R.Hullinger@iup.edu

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