Library board president: Much 'weeding' defensible, some resumed

Library board president: Much 'weeding' defensible, some resumed

URBANA — The Urbana Free Library board president said on Thursday that much of the weeding that occurred in the adult nonfiction section was defensible, and it actually resumed after library patrons expressed their concerns with the size and the speed of the book culling.

Board President Mel Farrell said "careful" weeding resumed after a June 19 special meeting during which dozens of library patrons said the removal of books from library stacks was too deep and too abrupt. Some were outraged to the point of calling for the firing of library Director Deb Lissak.

Adult services director Anne Phillips said her staff stopped pulling books off the shelves as of Thursday morning after they started receiving comments from patrons and fearing that even "careful" weeding could prompt more controversy.

"The weeding that had occurred, most of it, was very defensible," Farrell said. "There were only two sections that had a dissonant rate of discard versus retention. Those were the two areas of the section that sent up a red flag. The rest of it was just fine."

Those two were in the home repair and art sections of the adult nonfiction collection, she said.

Phillips said she contacted Farrell after the June 19 meeting seeking direction on how to proceed or not proceed with the weeding. The board issued a statement following the June 19 meeting that the "controversial" portions of the weeding be stopped, but Phillips felt they had given no direction on how to proceed with the "regular process."

The controversial process, Phillips said, was using spreadsheets to determine which books to keep and which to save. The regular weeding process includes looking at the books' conditions and other data.

"A couple of days after we issued our statement about stopping weeding, the adult services department and the circulation department, they conferred together and they asked me if they could resume careful weeding following all the best practices," Farrell said.

Bill Brown, an Urbana City Council member and a library trustee, went to the library to observe the weeding. He told Farrell it looked OK.

"He kind of contacted me and said it looked like they were following all the best practices, and I said go ahead," Farrell said.

Phillips said her staff resumed weeding but then stopped after fielding comments from patrons. They now are awaiting further direction from the library board as a whole before they move forward, "just to make sure that there's no confusion as far as what has been officially told."

Lissak has called the controversial portions of the weeding a "misstep" and has issued an apology on the library's website. It was intended that library staff review a list of adult nonfiction books older than 10 years old for possible culling, but what ended up happening is many of those books got pulled and shipped away.

The weeding originally commenced weeks ago in advance of the installation of new security gates and conversion to a radio-frequency identification, or RFID, tags on the books, which will allow for several self-checkout stations to be installed later this year.

As many as 200 boxes of books on are on their way back to the library, Farrell said, and library officials say they will go through the boxes to determine which can go back on the shelves and which can go to the Friends of the Urbana Free Library for resale.

Farrell reiterated that, outside of the art and home repair sections, the weeding numbers were not outside of normal ranges.

"There were just those two sections that were very different," she said.

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basset wrote on June 28, 2013 at 8:06 am

"Bill Brown, an Urbana City Council member and a library trustee, went to the library to observe the weeding. He told Farrell it looked OK."

So, now we are relying on the expertise of a non-professional, who looks around, and indicates things are fine?!!!  How about a professional evaluation by an outside librarian - I think that the UI might have a few in this area.

Incompetent?  Shameful?  You can't expect the librarians to be professional if the Board doesn't adhere to the same standards

bb wrote on June 28, 2013 at 10:06 am

Yeah, actually I never used the term "best practices".  I wouldn't know that.  After visiting for 3 hours, I did indicate they now appear to be able to follow the 7 criteria in board policy (they were physically looking at the books, able to look them up, etc. -  not using spreadsheets alone).  Your analysis is fair. The problem is the board needs to meet - we can't, and don't, as far as I know, discuss anything by email except for 1-on-1 ocassionally and they seem to have really shut down after the blatant OMA problem.  It's probably best they don't weed until the board meets again.


cgirl wrote on June 28, 2013 at 9:06 am

What I wonder about is when the sections that were hardest hit will be restocked, and how much that will cost. The Saturday after Smile Politely broke the news, I checked out the neopagan section. This section of religious books had never been great, but I counted only 5 books on the shelf; none of which were any intro books. How can the public learn about minority religions if foundation texts are missing?

Jen R wrote on June 28, 2013 at 9:06 am

Lissak has called the controversial portions of the weeding a "misstep" and has issued an apology on the library's website. It was intended that library staff review a list of adult nonfiction books older than 10 years old for possible culling, but what ended up happening is many of those books got pulled and shipped away.

According to staff, it was intended that they "review" at a rate of around 2000 books in half an hour, which is virtually no review at all. It's certainly not enough time to apply all of the library's weeding criteria. That's the reason too many books got pulled and shipped away, and that's Lissak's doing. You're letting her put all the blame on her staff when she put them in a position where it was impossible to do their jobs properly.

CarolGSLIS wrote on June 28, 2013 at 10:06 am

The following are approximate weeding rates for the affected nonfiction collections. I'm not sure how much of this is viewed as defensible, especially since an analysis of the spreadsheets obtained through a FOIA request indicate that a sizeable portion (30 - 60% for some ranges) of weeded items were circulating regularly. 

  • 000 Generalities: 16%

  • 100 Philosophy & psychology: 32%

  • 200 Religion: 40%

  • 300 - 399 Social sciences: 30%

  • 400 Language: 22%

  • 500 Science: 36%

  • 600 - 629 Technology / Medicine / Engineering: 29%

  • 630 - 641.6384 Agriculture / Home economics: 31%

  • 660 - 690 Engineering / Manufacturing / Buildings: 66%

  • 700 - 741.4 Art / Landscape Art / Architecture / Sculpture: 56%

  • 741.6 - 746 Drawing / Decorative Arts / Textile Arts: 43%

Adult fiction - including large-print materials - has been weeded heavily. Some audiovisual materials have been weeded heavily. UFL administration seems intent on moving to more downloadable and streaming materials - including magazines! Superficially this might not seem like a big issue, but a) more digital doesn't mean there has to be less analog,  b) more digital means less ownership and local control because digital resources are licensed rather than purchased, and c) people still value physical items and the ability to browse physical collections. 

Finally weeding is only part of the community's concern. There are management, strategic planning, and other issues that underlie the weeding and must be addressed in an open, meaningful manner.

CarolGSLIS wrote on June 28, 2013 at 10:06 am

- duplicated comment removed - 

DarcyG wrote on June 28, 2013 at 11:06 am

Is anyone else interested in who actually pulled the Art and home repair books? Was it an honest mistake or done intentionally to make the director (that adult services has repeatly said they did not get along with) look bad?. And was it the same person or group of people that gave that information to past employees to write to the media? And are they going to be held accountable; will there be repercussions for maligning the library and its director?                                 Everyone is talking about the loss of the books, but the library has to be run like a business. I am also interested in how much money it has cost the city of Urbana to stop the weeding process, ship the books back to Urbana, go through the 200 boxes of books again, not sell them to the organization that the library thought would give them the most money for, employee time wasted etc. It seems to me that it would have been cheaper in the long run to let the library administration run the library without the public outcry. I'm not sure if this outcry is helping the library in any way. Call me crazy again.

cgirl wrote on June 28, 2013 at 11:06 am

I think that the public outcry is intensely important to the library, helping the library decide where it wants to go in the future.  One of the core values, approved in May of this year, of UFL is "Respond to the community and foster collaborations." (1)  The community has brought up many, many important questions and fears about future of UFL.  The current administration has not answered those questions nor responded to the fear. 

And in a community where it's hard to swing a metaphorical "dead cat" and not hit a librarian, it's not as simple as 'people don't know that books need to be weeded.'




peanut farmer wrote on June 28, 2013 at 11:06 am

So you sound like Bin44 with a new username...true?  Have you been called crazy before?  Well anyway here we go again.


1) Yes, we know who weeded those books.  You also know who weeded them because you know what happened as well as I do.  It's boring to have to repeat it.  The adref staff were given huge lists of books, told not to go to the shelves, and told to weed at roughly the rate stated in another comment above- the point being at a rate that is impossible to actually take time to consider individual books.  The director weeded the books, and was happy to have it done as proven by recorded public statements made at a board meeting.  Not that we who worked here needed proof.  It was openly known that she was pushing to quickly get rid of a large portion of the collection.

If this was a setup as you so tiresomely keep saying then it was the world's most elaborate setup I have ever seen.  Those adref staff are wasting their time at libraries and should go directly to the CIA for covert ops training.


2) So glad to hear you use the word accountability.  The director has gone public to say that she is shocked (shocked I tell you!) at the drastic weeding that was done.  The ref librarians are to blame she says.  This is a lie.  This is so clearly a lie that it seems to require some accountability for it.  Inside the library the director doesn't even pretend to believe this.  She simply scolds the staff for their poor morale and laments that people are upset about the weeding that she ordered done.  She is not in the least bit upset about the books that went out.  She has lied about her staff and their intentions publicly.  Can you address this or at least give us some entertainment by trying to deny it?

3) The library has to be run like a business?  What?  Then we are the worst run business this city has ever seen.  We haven't turned a profit since 1917.  What does that even have to do with all of this?  Of course weeding costs money, of course returning the books costs money, of course keeping the books costs money- everything we do costs money because it involves staff and resources.  This is a debate about what the library should be and also sadly about the ethics and character of our administration.  But you're right...the world would run more cheaply if pesky public input wasn't allowed.  Democracy is so inefficient.

So I'm going to call you crazy again.  Sorry.

Bin44 wrote on June 28, 2013 at 1:06 pm

If you know the person responsible for the over pulling of the books and who then gave that information to the media, please tell us. Or maybe the News-Gazzette could find that out to be fair to all. According to Carol's figures in her response - 66% in home repair etc. and 56% in art etc - an extraordinary % of books went out. Why? It just seems like a no brainer to me - tell someone in house there's a problem, not the media. So much $ was wasted! What budget does that come out of?

It seems like you are very angry and are more concerned about getting rid of Ms. Lissak than the books/library itself. I'm sad for you, the library & the city.



Jen R wrote on June 28, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Bin44, is it your contention that a proper weeding, using all of the library's stated criteria, can be performed within the time that Ms. Lissak gave her staffers to do it? Or are you claiming the staffers are lying when they say they were given those time constraints? What are you claiming, exactly?

Bin44 wrote on June 29, 2013 at 4:06 pm

I am just asking the question, "Why did someone not inform Ms. Lissak that 50% of the books from a certain area were being pulled?" This whole debacle lacks of common sense. I'm just saying, if a smart, loyal person worked in this library department instead of employees that currently do this would not have happened. 

jp-g wrote on June 28, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Yes, hello Bin44, I'm the person who gave the information that I obtained at a public meeting to the media. I'm not the person responsible for over-pulling the books, that would be the director.  For anyone paying attention I've been working on compiling all the publicly available information into one huge document full of links. It's not perfect, but its an example of bigger thinking transparency.  Honestly Bin44, we have nothing to hide on this side of the discussion.  No amount of creepy speculation on your part is going to change that.  You're starting to sound like Glenn Beck on a bad day.  

Here's that link again, really have a look:


Bin44 wrote on June 29, 2013 at 4:06 pm

I believe that information was given out to a former employee before the public meeting who then went to the media or Library Board. The former employee does not work at the library, no problem. The employee who released that information, should be fired for costing the library so much extra $. And again, the director did not physically over pull the books; she was relying on what she thought was an intelligent staff to not pull 50% of the books. The adult services staff should be held accountable and should be at the very least reprimanded for being so irresponsible. And actually I believe you all are hiding much. My opinion.

My common sense is tingling. wrote on June 28, 2013 at 2:06 pm
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I'm sad to be hearing a defense from someone who sounds strangely like a relative of Ms. Lissak's and not Ms. Lissak herself. 

I'm even more sad that seemingly nothing was learned from this whole fiasco, aside for the now very apparent mismanagement of UFL.

A mild slap on the wrist all around. There, problem fixed.

UrbanaTaxpayer99 wrote on June 28, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Let's recap:

Who ordered the massive weeding?  The director.

Who admitted it was a mistake?  The director.

Who ordered hundreds and hundreds more books shipped out after promising the board that the weeding had stopped?  The director.

Who will be held responsible for the mistake, and for misleading the board and the public?  Not the director, apparently.

Tens of thousands of dollars worth of books gone.  More taxpayer money spent returning the books that never should have left.  With no accountability whatsoever.  Shameful.

What will happen next, given the lack of accountability?  The director has moved on to "weeding" all the music collection at the library.  I see a valuable lesson was learned here.

The good citizens of Urbana and generous donors, who only eight years ago made the beautiful new library building possible, are probably starting to wonder why we spent all that money for space that evidently isn't needed for library materials.

C-U Townie wrote on June 29, 2013 at 11:06 pm

Very well said. Perfect breakdown of the information. And thank you to others for compiling information that shows this is no more than bad management. This isn't some conspiracy. This is a BAD director who made REPREHENSIBLE decisions and then behaved like a COWARD and blamed her staff for the "mistake" (which was not a mistake, she was very intentional in how she coordinated the plan and how she "supervised" the execution of the plan). 

Why hasn't her head rolled yet? Is it smart to continue paying for a director who clearly has no ability to direct any level of operation efficiently?

amf wrote on June 29, 2013 at 1:06 pm

I know nothing about this issue except what I've read in the handful of NG articles - I know little of the administration of this library and nothing of the individuals involved.  It sounds like there is lots more under the surface that is of concern, aside from this one incident.  That's often the case, of course, and I hope this incident brings the underlying issues to light so they can be addressed.  Something that caught my eye in this article, though, were the statements that said that the Adult Services director, and perhaps the director of another division (circulation), went directly to the Board president for direction on how to proceed.  Do these indviduals not report to Lissak?  Whatever issues or disagreements exist, the fact is that Lissak is the director and it struck me as inappropriate for her senior staff to seek direction from anyone except her.   

Jen R wrote on June 29, 2013 at 10:06 pm

"Why did someone not inform Ms. Lissak that 50% of the books from a certain area were being pulled?"

Inform her? According to staff, after they marked on the spreadsheets books they wanted to keep (though they didn't have time to do a thorough evaluation, and were under pressure to weed more rather than less), Lissak herself made the pull lists. So how could she not know?

Which department do you work in?

CarolGSLIS wrote on June 29, 2013 at 10:06 pm

If the president of the Board of Trustees believes the weeding is 'defensible' and the library's director told media a number of days ago that she had no problem with the weeding as it happened, then I'm not sure why Bin44 believes the adult services staff - either individually or as a whole - should be held responsible for costing UFL money. (And to be clear, this is simply my opinion...)

Marti Wilkinson wrote on July 01, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Regardless as to what happens to the library director, it appears that people will look far more closely at the practices being adhered to, and that is a good thing. At the very least it shows a public investment in a resource that is often overlooked in other communities.