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.