Urbana library 'misstep' upsets patrons

Urbana library 'misstep' upsets patrons

URBANA — In front of city council members on Monday night, residents called for more oversight at the Urbana Free Library after a "weeding" controversy drew the ire of patrons in what the library director has called a "misstep."

Library patrons said they were shocked and saddened when they found presumably thousands of books missing from library stacks last week after workers began removing volumes more than 10 years old.

The planned "weeding" was part of the library's effort to prepare for the installation of new security gates and conversion to a radio-frequency identification system, which will allow for several self-checkout stations to be installed later this year. It also was part of an effort to carve out additional space for people in the library, library board President Mary Ellen Farrell said last week.

But audience members at Monday night's city council meeting called it a mistake, and some even called for the resignation of library Director Debra Lissak.

Lissak could not be reached for comment on Monday night, but she said last week that it was never intended for so many books to be removed. Some of those books are being returned to library shelves, and Lissak said the "misstep" was the result of a miscommunication.

"It sounds crazy, but if you love books, maybe you'll understand," said Urbana resident Desiree Yomtoob. "I was so, so upset."

Lissak told The News-Gazette last week that she had prepared a spreadsheet listing the library's adult nonfiction books with those older than 10 years old highlighted in red. Earlier this spring, the adult department had about 66,000 nonfiction books, and about half of the collection is more than 10 years old, she said.

She asked staff to review the list and mark any that they wanted to keep, she said. Instead, what appeared to happen is staff started a blanket removal of books 10 years old or older in the adult nonfiction shelves, according to Lissak.

Before it was halted, the weeding included art, gardening, computer science, medicine and some cooking books, but stopped before history and biography.

City council members did not address the situation at the library on Monday night. It was not a scheduled agenda item, but an impromptu overflow audience had assembled to announce their opinions.

JP Goguen, who spent time investigating the "weeding" and sent information to local media, said there has been "quite a fallout."

"I was totally dismayed," Goguen said.

Kate McDowell, a former Urbana Library Board member and faculty member at the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences, said the event has "damaged public trust" of library officials.

She said she was troubled by the audio she heard of the last library board meeting and asked that the city begin televising those meetings "in order to encourage greater oversight."

The library board has called a special meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, and speakers at Monday night's city council meeting encouraged interested library patrons to attend.

Yomtoob called the library collection "breathtaking" and one of the defining features of the city of Urbana. The "weeding," however, she said was a disappointment.

"It's something that absolutely broke my trust in the head director of the Urbana Free Library," she said.

A previous version of this story included an incorrect reference to Kate McDowell's association to the Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences. The correct information appears here.

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wayward wrote on June 18, 2013 at 7:06 am

McDowell is actually a faculty member at GSLIS, not a student.

katemcdowell wrote on June 18, 2013 at 10:06 am

Yes, I am, in fact, an almost-tenured member of the GSLIS faculty, specializing in youth services.  My website is well-indexed for google accessibility, and clues in my statement were that "I teach weeding" and that I am a former children's librarian at The Urbana Free Library.

This kind of sloppy fact-checking is precisely why I have been relying on other news sources and people I personally know in order to understand and respond to the library managment debacle.

Patrick Wade wrote on June 18, 2013 at 11:06 am
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My apologies. I've made the correction. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

Acl wrote on June 18, 2013 at 7:06 pm

I think you missed a lot of crucial facts about the debacle. This is more than a "misstep" this was a kind of librarian "malpractice" and negligence.

1) The director of adult services was out of the country and all of this was done without her knowledge, much less input. This is disgraceful.

2) They "weeded" the books as quickly as possible without consideration for UFL weeding guidlines - circulation frequency, other editions, etc.

3) Lissak's response is shocking: I probably haven't looked at the collection in over thirty years; someone beneath me does that."If she has no idea what is in the collection she certainly shouldn't organize the weeding in such a backhanded way.

4) The books were shipped off to an online used book seller.

5) The halting of the weeding ONLY stopped because patrons noticed that 50-70% of the books were gone (taxpayer money wasted) and contacted UFL board members who called an emergency meeting.



Marty wrote on June 18, 2013 at 10:06 am

Before it was halted, the weeding included art, gardening, computer science, medicine and some cooking books, but stopped before history and biography.


OH NO, they were going to get rid of computer books over ten years old. lol

dray wrote on June 18, 2013 at 11:06 am
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Perhaps I am late to the story, but it is not clear what “weeding” a book means.  Are “weeded” books, sold, destroyed or otherwise irretrievable after they are “weeded”?  Removing volumes in preparation of infrastructure installations sounds temporary.  Does UFL have off-site storage for these titles that have been or are scheduled for “weeding”? 

It is reasonable to understand that a library has a finite amount of space.  In an effort to be as useful and relevant to as many of its patrons as possible, removal of less popular tittles would seem to be a natural evolution for any library.  This issue and the accompanying story have left me with more questions than answers.

katemcdowell wrote on June 18, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Weeding is a normal part of any library, and you can see Urbana Free's weeding policy under the "Your Right to Know" link at the bottom of their website.  Or you can go here (http://urbanafreelibrary.org/sites/default/files/page/attachments/2012/1...) to read the policy.

The issue isn't weeding; it's mismanagement of the weeding process.  In a normal process, staff would take time and care to assure that all of the 7-part weeding criteria were assessed for each volume.  With digitized databases, this is time consuming but not difficult to achieve.  

What happened here is unclear, but the process appears to have been rushed and pressured so that staff were unable to assess the materials properly, in service of a new strategic plan that the director was eager to implement.  Given this situation, it's clear that there was a major oversight disconnect between the director and the public.

All are welcome at the Urbana Free Library auditorium on Wednesday 6/21, 7pm, for the emergency board meeting related to this topic.  As above, I am a faculty member at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, as well as a former board member and former children's librarian at Urbana Free.

Whatdidyoujustsay wrote on June 18, 2013 at 9:06 pm

The Urbana Free Library has an extensive collection of mysteries; surely one of the largest in the area. Many of them are old mystery classics and series that one will not find elsewhere in the library system. What will happen to these treasures?

787 wrote on June 18, 2013 at 5:06 pm

First we had Champaign, which built a library, and finally figured out that they can't really afford it.  And of course, they raised taxes to bail themselves out.   How else does an irresponsible government handle it?

Now, we have Urbana, which is apparently in a big hurry to thin out their collection.... with a poorly executed plan.

Only in Government

It's *our* money that they're wasting.



Whatdidyoujustsay wrote on June 18, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Will the meeting be at the library?