Berkeley library director admits vast discrepancies in numbers of weeded books

Retired librarian Pat Mullan (center left in brown jacket) encourages protesters to check out books from the Central Branch of the Berkeley Public Library to save them from weeding on July 14, 2015. Photo: Francesca Paris
At a July protest about the deaccessioning process, retired librarian Pat Mullan (center left in brown jacket) encouraged protesters to check out books from the Central Branch of the Berkeley Public Library to save them from weeding. Photo: Francesca Paris

Over 39,000 items have been weeded from Berkeley Public Library this year, far more than the couple of thousand previously cited by Library Director Jeff Scott. The 39,000 items include 13,850 deleted last copies of books. According to Scott, however, the 39,000 items is comparable to the average weeded over the last two years.

“I had the wrong information,” Scott said. “There was an internal process different to what I realized.”

The vast discrepancies emerged following protests by an ad hoc group of retired librarians and other library users over a new system for deaccessioning, introduced by Scott. Two Public Records Act requests — by a Berkeley High student and a Bay Area News Group reporter — failed to produce either the number of weeded items or details on which titles had been removed. Councilman Kriss Worthington met with Scott on July 24 and, according to Worthington, he was able to find the real number of weeded items after Scott “pushed the right buttons” on his computer.

Worthington and the retired librarians are holding a rally at noon today, Aug. 12, on the main library’s steps protesting what he has dubbed “Librarygate.”


“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,” Worthington said. “I’m less passionate about how many books are removed, but 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.”

The list of 13,850 last copies obtained by Worthington is 957 pages long and contains works in every main Dewey Decimal classification, as well as fiction. Scott had previously said that no fiction had been weeded.

“The number of items weeded this year is actually lower than the average of the last two years,” Scott said. “Last year, it was 53,681 items that were weeded. It’s been historically higher in past years than this year.”

“The last copies are completely significant,” said retired librarian Pat Mullan. “We don’t have title and author for all the duplicates. It’s kind of a stunning list, both the numbers and the titles themselves. This has been a greatly accelerated program. It’s really succeeded in decimated collections.”

In the past, according to Mullan and other retired librarians, as many as 25 librarians were involved in the weeding process. This year, the task has been centralized and is handled by two library managers with the help of four staffers.

“There’s a depth of intellectual legacy you’re building on,” Mullan said. “The idea would be when one weeds — and every librarian has the DNA in their system to weed — you do it with the same care and attention with which you bought the book in the first place.”

Related:
Obscure and popular books part of Berkeley library weeding process (08.04.15)
Protesters rally over library weeding
(07.14.15)
Library fans voice concern over weeding of books (07.08.15)

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