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.