ACPL board answers public questions in 96-page response

Local News

The Allen County Public Library Board of Trustees issued a 96-page response to 200 questions from petitioners and the public regarding perceived book purging.

If the petitioners were hoping to drive a wedge between the board and the ACPL director, this report will likely dash those hopes. 

The board largely restates much of director Greta Southard’s narrative.

Once again, the board asserts that the original number of books reported to the state was inflated through years of double counting.

It also says the number of books recently discarded cannot be known because “our current system does not differentiate between actual items discarded and simple records that were deleted for various reasons.”

ACPL Community Engagement Manager Stephanny Smith emailed WANE 15 that the practice of “weeding” will not begin right away.

“That has not yet been determined,” Smith wrote. “I can at least tell you it is not resuming tomorrow simply because the responses have been posted.”

The ACPL board put all weeding on hold until they were able to answer questions from the public about the library’s collection policy and practices.

Kim Fenoglio, one of the original petitioners, emailed WANE 15 that she appreciates the effort the board put into answering the public’s questions.

“Clearly people are concerned about the current situation plaguing the library,” Fenoglio wrote. 

“It is not clear, though, that the library has been moved by any of this outpouring by the public to do anything. The answers they have provided seem an attempt to justify what cannot be justified.”

One of the most frequently asked questions seems to be “why all the empty shelves?”

The board replies that “There may be a number of reasons for empty shelves. Some shelves formerly holding recently weeded materials will soon hold new materials; some shelves will be removed to make all of our facilities ADA compliant; and some shelves will be removed and/or repositioned to provide for appropriate meeting and programming spaces at all of our facilities.”

The report from the board addresses the “last copy” practice, which it says was never official policy. It says a “last copy” practice is actually contrary to policy and would add costs to taxpayers.

“The 1992 ACPL Resource Development policy stated that ‘In order to continue to develop a useful and attractive collection, the library removes books and other materials which are no longer useful.’ Keeping a last copy would be a violation of this approved policy.

“The idea of a last copy is sentimental but also a very costly practice. If we use conservative figures to estimate the cost of keeping a book, it currently costs the library – and ultimately taxpayers – over half a million dollars just to house materials that have not circulated in over 10 years. That is $500,000 we cannot use to purchase materials taxpayers want and need.”

(The report says it arrived at that $500,000 amount based on the cost of $4.26 per book. That figure was derived from an academic study titled “On the Cost of Keeping a Book” by Paul N. Courant and Matthew “Buzzy” Nielsen. The complete text for the study can be found at:
http://www.clir.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/6/pub147.pdf)

Later in the report, the board says the last copy practice was not supported by the majority of branch managers, who would rather access the same item through an inter-library loan.

The managers are quoted as telling the board that “This past practice (of last copy) which was randomly adhered to is not sustainable. We discussed a new tool that we have access to that analyzed our holdings as compared to other libraries. This tool allows us to expose items of lasting value and allow us to make strategic decisions about which items should have long term access. We can then make informed decisions as to how those items are then preserved and accessed.”

One of the shortest answers might draw some of the most criticism.

The petitioners asked: If a change in collection development philosophy is desired, breaking with a 124-year-old tradition, doesn’t the community deserve to know about it, react to it, and express opinions about it?

The board’s response?

“The public constantly votes with their library card. They express their opinions every time they use an item. When an item is not used, that is also the public expressing an opinion.”

Several petitioners have disputed voting “with their library card” because that metric does not allow for depth in the collection, doing away with books kept “just in case.”

The board also distances itself from any responsibility for employee morale, writing it has “no specific role in addressing staff morale other than working with the Library’s leadership as it continues to improve the flow of communication both up and down the chain.”

When asked about the renowned Genealogy Department, the board tries to put those concerns to rest.

They quote Curt Witcher, the longtime manager of the Library’s Genealogy Center, as saying the genealogy collection has never been weeded and “there are no plans to begin.”

The board also provides data from the recently completed inventory. 

According to ACPL’s 2018 annual report, the collection includes:

  • 2.4 million print books
  • 164,039 e-books
  • 91,627 videos (includes DVD, Blu-Ray, VHS, Playaway video)
  •  70,703 audio (includes CD, DVD, audiobooks,MP3, Playaway books)

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