Library director reflects on public meeting, gives more details

Local News

Chapter two. Explaining further. 

After Wednesday’s emotion-packed meeting with the public, the head of the Allen County Public Library and a member of the board of trustees sat down with WANE 15 to shed more light on perceived book purging.

Both agreed that much of the problem stems from never counting the physical inventory, relying instead on the database. 

The physical inventory was completed for branches in 2018 and is nearing completion at the main location.

That inventory stands at roughly 2.4 million print items.

Prior to the inventory, books that were counted in the catalog database were not necessarily on the shelves or in storage. Sometimes books were entered into the catalog twice once when ordered and again when physically received. When a book was removed from the physical collection, it was not always removed from the catalog.

Library director Greta Southard wishes she could simply issue a full, detailed breakdown of book numbers.

“You know, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to get to that level of specificity because we don’t have the actual data from those years,” said Southward. “We might have snapshots of points in time, but not necessarily the actual data of what happened when.”

ACPL Board of Trustees Secretary Ben Eisbart agreed. “So when you’re operating on a number that is ‘made up’ and then you’re basing your conclusions by subtracting from a made up number – then it looks like all hell is breaking loose.”

As for the success of the public answer-session, Southard feels the board offered answers raised by petition signers.

“From that point of view, it was a success,” she said but then added “Did people hear and understand and internalize what those responses were? That, I’m not sure. That remains to be seen.”

“A lot of it was complex answers. You think it’s a simple question but it becomes a complex answer.”

Another issue raised by the petitioners was implied threats to employees who speak out. 

Eisbart said the board looks at employee turnover and exit interviews to measure job satisfaction and morale. They have seen nothing to suggest dissatisfaction. 

What about the charge that staff was given orders to weed large amounts of books? Southard said that local librarians still make those decisions. 

“We rely on and expect the professional librarians to take an active role in this. Just because an item shows up as a potential candidate for weeding, it’s still totally their discretion whether or not it’s actually weeded.”

Despite the weeding moratorium imposed by the board, nearly 20,000 items were labeled “discarded”  by the system. That’s because those items spent more than three months lost or missing.

After the interview, WANE 15 asked for clarification about that attrition rate. The emailed response from ACPL spokesperson Stephanny Smith was that “Every week a report automatically runs to remove discarded item records from the database.  This report continues to run weekly removing item records for various scenarios.  This morning we mostly chatted about the missing items that had not been found in three months.  Other scenarios of item records that might be included in this report are: lost or damaged (borrower reports the item as lost or damaged and pays a fee); we continue to clean up the dummy ghost records by discarding them; or it could also be an item that was physically removed months ago but still had fines or fees attached to the item record, once that fee has been paid the item record will now be discarded.”

Southard clarified that book use is now measured by more than how often it is checked out, since some books might be read, in full or in part, without leaving the library. All branches and departments are tasked with tracking in-house use, not just check-outs.

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