Petitioners ‘disappointed’ after forum with ACPL board

Local News

At a public forum Wednesday night, the Allen County Public Library (ACPL) board of trustees answered the questions on perceived book purging.

How well they answered those questions depends on who you ask. You can read the answers below.

The questions largely came from the list submitted by Kim Fenoglio, who spearheaded a petition to the board condemning an increase in the library’s discarding or “weeding” of books.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the board announced it would continue its moratorium on discarding books until it feels there is a more mutual understanding of the process, but that didn’t change Fenoglio’s feeling of disappointment. 

 “They didn’t produce any facts tonight,” Fenoglio said. “It was all double speak and broad explanations of weeding.” 

Fenoglio said she hopes the public will pressure the appointing bodies of the ACPL Board of Trustees to hold their appointees accountable. 

Questions for Public Forum 

The questions that do not have an answer underneath them were not discussed at the forum and will be addressed through written answers by the board at a “later date.” 

1) According to data self-reported by the Allen County Public Library to the Indiana State Library* government website, in 2014 the library had 3,585,543 books in its collection and in 2017 it listed 2,138,451 books in its collection for a total loss of 1,402,092 books. It is unacceptable for the director to deny these numbers yet provide no alternative numbers. Ms. Southard likens the library to a business, yet the public is to believe that for four years she did not know how much product she had on hand. This implies one of two things: incompetence or obstruction. If the numbers cited on the government website were incorrect for over four years under the directorship of Ms. Southard, we demand to know what the correct number of books held and/or discarded is. The ISL data confirmed that 1/3 of the collection was discarded over the 2014-2017 timeframe. While the director has repeatedly denied this number, the Public Services Managers Meeting minutes (4/12/16) show otherwise. The A-Team stated, “Roughly 25% (of the collection) will need to be discarded at ABT, DPT, GEO, LTL, TEC and Main. 20% at all of the other locations.”   

Q: What was the total number of books in the collection in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017? What was the total number of books discarded from the collection in each of those years?   

A: It’s not accurate that 1.4 million books were discarded. An accurate inventory had not been kept for those years so at this time, it is not known how many books were in the collection nor how many were discarded. 

2) We know that across all of ACPL, approximately 10,000 books were discarded per week in 2018. At the 2/28/19 board meeting, we requested a report to verify, or refute, that number.   

Q: Has that report been generated? If not, please do so and provide us with that number.   

A: The report is in the process of being generated.  

3) In the Operations Managers Meeting on September 26, 2017, it was announced that the last copy procedure would no longer be in place. This is a major and devastating change to collection development. Last copy was a procedure where, before weeding and discarding a book, librarians made sure it was not the last remaining copy in the system. Keeping the last copy of a book, allowed the ACPL to avoid having to purchase the book in the future or to request an interlibrary loan for the title, both of which add unnecessary expense to the library budget.  Now, ACPL does not follow the decades old, last copy procedure. We can no longer fill interlibrary loan requests. ACPL sold those rare, last copies for 25 cents a book.   

Q: As an important procedure that defined our collection, both internally and externally, why not continue the last copy procedure? Why remove ACPL’s vital role in the interlibrary loan network? What is the value or end goal in doing away with last copy procedure?   

A: Last Copy is sentimental but also a very costly practice. It currently costs the library and, ultimately, taxpayers over $500,000/year to house materials that have not circulated in over 10 years. 

4) Because of the high discard quotas set by the Collection Development Team and Collection HQ (collection management system), many librarians were not able to keep up with the demands placed on them. Consequently, non-librarians (circulation staff, summer staff, and shelvers) were used to pull items for discard. This practice goes against basic ALA recommendations in which, “even the most accurate algorithm’s list can benefit from a double check from a trained librarian’s eye, as certain titles may be worth keeping on the shelves in spite of low-traffic records – especially if yours is the only library in your consortium or interlibrary loan to retain a copy.” (Library Journal 6/23/2105)  

Q: What is the reason for subverting degreed librarians’ expertise in managing a collection they know so well?   

A: We agree that the final decision to discard an item should rest in the hands of professional degreed librarians. Nonprofessional staffers are not authorized to make decisions as to which items remain or are removed from the collection. The job description for a branch manager says they “oversee collection management through reading consultation with adult, nonprint and youth collection development librarians and filling a customer’s special request.” In contrast, the job description of a shelver includes the occasional review of the collection upon the request and with the direction of a librarian. That means a shelver may assist in the fiscal process of pulling items for a librarian to review or doing the manual labor of discarding items that the professional staff has selected for removal. 

5) The ACPL librarians are no longer entrusted with managing their branch and departmental collections. Prior to this administration, librarians had the ability to order books and materials based on the needs of their specific patrons. ALL ordering is now decided by an algorithm (provided by Collection HQ) and implemented by the Collection Development Team, which consists of only three people. This insular method runs counter to the way ACPL branches have always provided access to materials for the individuals and communities they serve.   

Q: How does having three people, housed in a second-floor office at the main library, order ALL items for the entire library, including the branches, benefit the development of the collection and the patrons’ interests?   

A; Those people are able to specialize, review items and study trends, regularly seek input and receive feedback from branch and department managers and can stay informed by feedback from librarians who plan and deliver programs for our customers. Our current collection development team is comprised of professional librarians with Masters of Library Service degrees. Each member has been a frontline librarian and has managed library locations. The members have a combined 50 years of experience in collection development. Their responsibilities are divided into areas of youth, adult and nonprint materials. 

6) It is concerning that Collection HQ is owned by Baker & Taylor, the single largest supplier of books to the ACPL. Collection HQ, owned by Baker & Taylor, dictates to the ACPL how many and which books to discard, while at the same time, indicating which books to buy, from Baker & Taylor. This cozy arrangement would not be as alarming if librarians had not been cut out of the equation and replaced by the three-person Collection Development Team that makes all discarding and purchasing decisions for the library, based on Collection HQ owned by Baker & Taylor. And remember, the ACPL buys most of its new books from Baker & Taylor. Not only is the arrangement cozy, it is insular. Baker & Taylor does not carry every item, yet small presses and specialty publishers have been cut out of the equation. Previously, a selection specialist chose books based on their knowledge of the community they served and from a large array of vendors. Now, it is a closed off process that allows for little to no outside input. This creates an inherently, self-serving arrangement for Baker & Taylor at the expense of a varied and robust collection for ACPL patrons.   

Q: Do you find this arrangement as alarming as the public does? Will the director address this conflict of interest?  

A: Ultimately, we rely on our staffs’ professional judgement. Data informs the process. It does not dictate it. In 2018, the collection development team ordered from at least 60 vendors, less than one quarter of the 2018 materials budgeted was spent with Baker and Taylor. 

7) Historically, the ACPL has been a very strong advocate of patrons’ privacy rights. However, under this director’s leadership, the ACPL is now purchasing patrons’ credit card information from AOD to compile demographic information on them. The public has not been informed of this, nor is there any written policy that states the usage of this information despite American Library Association recommendations to the contrary. The use of patrons’ credit card information along with the new ACPL operating system, WISE, is cause for grave privacy concerns. WISE tracks (with user opt-in) the activity of a person’s library card usage, as well as the history of any items they check out, much like Amazon keeps track of the books you purchase for marketing purposes. This, again, is something ACPL had never done prior to this administration.   

Q: On behalf of unsuspecting library patrons, we would like to know, how will our personal information be used? Will it be provided to another entity? Do you have plans to let the public know about this? Will there be a forthcoming board-approved privacy policy put in place? If not, how will we know what is happening with our personal data?   


8) At the 2/28/19 board meeting, we asked the Board of Trustees to create a safe place (or way) for staff to speak without fear of retaliation.   

Q: Was that done? If so, how many members of the Board of Trustees have spoken to staff?   

A: Government employees, including library employees, have a constitutional right to freedom of speech about matters of public concern so long as the speech does not undermine governmental operations. With this opinion, it is clear that any effort to prohibit employees from speaking about this issue would be unconstitutional and would not be tolerated by the trustees or by management. So there has been no gag order, and library employees are free to speak their minds about this issue as long as they don’t violate library policies or the law or undermine the operations of the library. 

9) In a News Sentinel article dated 4/27/2018, Ms. Southard shared the vision of a consulting firm, Kimberly Bolan & Associates, hired by the ACPL. In the article, a proposal was made, based on the hired consultants’ findings, to spend $47,197,500 to improve the branches. This called for completely replacing Aboite and Dupont, as well as major renovations to most of the other branches and minor renovations to the rest. The main thrust was to create meeting and outdoor spaces.   

Q: How much did ACPL spend with this consulting firm? What about the $84,000,000 in bond money spent less than 20 years ago during the 2002-2007 ACPL renovations?  Is the director readying the branches for these renovations by purging most of their collections?   

10) According to the September 2017 Trustees minutes, only 1,267 people filled out the strategic planning survey. Nowhere on the survey is there a question addressing the importance of the collection. Nowhere is there a question that asks if the public would like to have the collection downsized in order to make room for meeting spaces. In fact, there is no mention of actual books or any mention of our collection. Tellingly, question #10 asks survey participants to rate library services. Out of the 24 items listed to be rated, only one pertained to books, and that referenced “new & popular materials (books, DVDs, etc.).”   

Q: How do the director and the Board of Trustees justify basing such a drastic strategic plan on a biased survey that only 1,267 people completed — a survey that failed to address the question of a “large scale collection downsize” (from “The Magical Art of Tidying” ACPL presentation at Indiana Library Federation)?  

A: The library undertook an open and deliberative approach to soliciting feedback from the community as it entered into the strategic planning process. 14 public forums were held for community members and stakeholders. There were additional forums for staff members and board members. A forum was held specifically for the Burmese community. Surveys were offered at each of our 15 locations. The opportunity to complete a survey or participate in a public forum was shared in numerous newspaper articles, local news programs and through the libraries marketing channels. Every effort was taken to drive public participation and engagement in the process, and the board appreciates those who took the time to share their thoughts. 

11) During the strategic planning phase of 2017, focus groups that included the public were promised. According to the September 2017 Trustee minutes, there is no mention of the public attending any focus groups. Instead, the minutes reference two synthesis meetings and a retreat that consisted of “staff, community partners, and board members.”   

Q: Did any of the focus groups include members of the public? If so, how many? How many members of the public attended? Where were these focus groups held? How was it decided which members of the public would be included?   

12) Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the strategic planning survey is where it fell on the timeline of events. According to internal emails and documents we are more than happy to provide, major collection changes began immediately after Ms. Southard assumed her role as director. In November of 2014, staff was told they would no longer have individual agency budgets. There would be one pot from which Collection HQ would decide which departments and branches received what and how much. In April of 2015, staff were told that “the weed process is changing…we will discard instead of weeding” effective 5/15/15. In April of 2016, at a Public Services Managers meeting, staff was informed, “roughly 25% of books will need to be discarded at ABT, DPT, GEO, LTL, TEC, and Main. 20% at all of the other locations.” In May of 2016, staff was directed to “complete as much weeding as possible in order to have items available for a massive book sale that will take place…during Three Rivers Festival.” In March of 2017, staff was told they would no longer be deciding which items to purchase for their branches and departments. While this will be “an unpleasant change. We will continue to reach out to you for information regarding your customers’ needs and interests through meetings, emails and branch visits.”   

Q: How is it that all of these strategic changes were already enacted BEFORE the survey and synthesis meetings took place in August of 2017? Was the Board of Trustees aware of these drastic changes taking place? If the strategic plan was already being implemented, what value did Mr. Cullin of Kimberly Bolan & Associates bring to the process? How much was his consulting fee? And how can the ACPL, in all good conscience, say that the library’s new direction was borne out of the strategic planning process, when in fact, major changes were already happening at least two years before?    

13) Q: As a new strategic plan has already been implemented, what is the vision for our library? What kind of library is the director creating? What is the ultimate  goal for downsizing the collection as radically as stated in the ILF/ACPL presentation, various internal emails, and internal meeting minutes?        

A: 1. ACPL actively supports the community’s value for promoting lifelong learning, economic growth and overall quality of life. 2. To broaden ACPL’s reach throughout the community through direct connections and strong community partnerships 3. To create welcoming and easy to use environments at all locations. 4. To provide meaningful, innovative and adaptable content and service. There is no goal to downsize the collection. The goal is to have a robust accurate collection at convenient and appropriately constructed locations. That are regularly used by the community 

14) We know the radical downsizing of the collection was not due to lack of space.   Q: Using the architectural drawings and data from the 2001 ACPL expansion, what is the capacity of the Main library for the total number of books that can be shelved there? How many books are currently shelved there?   

A: The new main library building by design was expected to have a storage capacity to last ten to 20 years before it would reach maximum capacity. However, by the end of 2014, the storage levels were nearly full. This was just seven years after moving into the new building. As of February 25, there were 855,790 items in storage. Those are only items that are available to circulate. That figure does not include the government documents and reference materials the library holds. The promise of 10 to 20-year capacity was gone after seven. We do not have infinite space. If we continue to keep uncirculating items forever, it will be at the expense of adding new relevant items to the collection. 

15) In October of 2017, a concerned ACPL patron attended a board meeting to express concern over collection development issues they believed were happening at multiple branches.   

Q: Did the board address these concerns with the director or staff? Was there follow-up action taken to investigate their concerns?  

16) The Board of Trustees approved on June 28, 2018, a new Collection Development Policy that superseded the one adopted on September 24, 1992. Under “Selection Criteria,” the new policy states: “The Library serves the interests of the community and, as such, strives to maintain an ever-evolving collection of popular materials with added breadth and depth in the area of local history.” Under “Collection Maintenance,” it also states “The purpose of the library’s collection is to provide the most high-demand and high-interest materials for the public.” We understand that the ALA does not recognize the term “popular materials library,” but we think the director is playing at semantics. Many libraries have adopted this model (Elisha D Smith Public Library and the Baltimore County Public Library are two examples). So let us stop the rhetoric, agree that this term exists in the library lexicon, and demand the answer that has been dodged since November of 2018:                    

Q: Is the ACPL a popular materials library? Is the ACPL becoming a popular materials library? Are the algorithms of Collection HQ, which guide the purchasing of our library’s materials, currently focusing on high-demand, high-circulation, and high-interest items to the exclusion of a balanced and robust collection?   

17) We suspect that initially the collection was downsized so radically in anticipation of RFID, a new system that would replace the current barcode system. In the April 12, 2016 Public Services Managers Meeting, it was stated that RFID would be implemented later that year. Fewer materials to tag with RFID would mean a lower cost. RFID has not been implemented. In this same meeting, a floating collection was reviewed by a committee who found it not to be a good fit for ACPL, given the size of branch collections. The downsizing in the branches would make both RFID and a floating collection a more realistic plan.   

Q: Are either of these scenarios true? Is the library going to purchase and implement RFID? Is the Floating Collection, in which books remain at the branches they are returned to, going to be implemented?  

18) The current, thoughtless, computer-generated method of managing a collection causes us concern on behalf of the Genealogy Department. Will Collection HQ and the Collection Development Team decide we do not need the actual physical materials at some future date since everything is now digitized? Is our amazing Genealogy collection at risk? We ask you to think about this. Five years ago, it would have been unthinkable that someone would purge a third of our nationally renowned, public collection. Our public collection seemed just as safe then as the Genealogy collection seems today.   

Q: Is the Genealogy collection safe? How does the Board of Trustees know? How will the Board of Trustees know if it is not?  

19) Despite the director’s continued insistence that the “criteria for discarding items HAS NOT BEEN CHANGED,” it has. Prior to this administration, managing librarians in the branches and the various departments had control over when and what to discard. As they each learned when completing their Master of Library Science degrees, responsible weeding and discarding is necessary to manage a collection. Previously, weeding and discarding was wisely left to the professional judgment of the librarian who would use criteria based on condition, accuracy (e.g., in the areas of medicine, science), last activity date, number of circulations, and available space. Seldom used items were often kept if they had historical or intellectual value. What did not come into the decision-making process were arbitrary, broad-based circulation dates imposed by a computer algorithm. Now the branches are subjected to a computer-generated list of items with no circulation for 18-24 months for books, and 2-5 years for books at Main. That is a dramatic change. Along with doing away with last copy procedure, allowing Collection HQ to implement quotas, and discarding books without weeding them first, the criteria for discarding items HAS INDEED BEEN CHANGED.   

Q: How is it possible not to describe this as a change to the criteria for discarding?   

20) Q: 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?  

21) Finally, in a 2018 article for OCLC Next, Ms. Southard wrote, “sometimes, in order to change anything…you have to change everything.”   

This quote, and the idea that everything that has gone before needs to be summarily pitched out, are deeply disrespectful, dismissive, and offensive. Without asking about or understanding the history of this institution and the well-reasoned philosophy that has guided it for decades, this director immediately imposed drastic changes that have affected the entire community. The fact that years after the changes are implemented, a sham “strategic plan” was created to provide a rationale for those changes is indefensible.  The public’s trust in this institution has seriously eroded.                             

Q: How do you intend to repair it, so that you can regain community support?    

Priot to the meeting:

Before the meeting, Fenoglio emailed WANE 15 News about her questions and expectations.

Fenoglio thought the board could be persuaded, writing that “the board shares the same goal as the community does. We love our library. ” 

When Fenoglio was asked if she could be persuaded that these changes were for the best, she doubted she could be.  

“Honestly, it would be hard to convince us that this was the correct course for our library. These policies do great harm to our library’s collection and national reputation,” she replied. 

Fenoglio hoped before Wednesday night’s meeting the best possible outcome “would be for the curtain to be pulled back on the things that have been happening to our library without our knowledge and, we suspect, the board’s. Looking to the future, it is our hope that the board will take the necessary steps to protect our library.” 

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