New library policy seeks to guide, explain collection decisions and reassure critics

(News-Sentinel.com file photo)

The Allen County Public Library is taking steps to ease concerns about its alleged “purging” of books .

The library Board of Directors Thursday considered but delayed a vote on an amendment to the “collection development” policy last updated in 2018. In a memo to the board, Director Greta Southard and others library executives explained that last year’s revisions were intended to “align with our present-day practices and vision. Our goals were to more clearly define the scope and purpose of the collection, update information regarding material formats and institutional changes (centralized collection development) and, finally, to revise the language ad organization of the so that it is easily understood by library staff and customers alike.

“Clearly, we missed the mark, as evidenced by recent internal conversation.”

Just last week, in fact, Kim Fenoglio, organizer of Concerned Library Patrons, asked Allen County Council to exert more oversight on its two appointees to the eight-member library board, which Fenoglio said had failed to prevent the removal of 1.4 million books from the shelves — a number library officials have insisted is inaccurate. Fenoglio said another 600,000 books are slated for removal, but Sharon Tucker, a member of the council and library board, said any further such action has been suspended by the board pending further review. The library has about 2.4 million books in its collection.

The proposed revisions clarify the primary missions of the main and branch libraries, making it clear that the downtown facility’s scope should be as broad as possible while the branches should reflect the community’s evolving interests. Its special collections, including genealogy and the Lincoln collection will be “selected and curated for lasting value and long-term assess.”

In an apparent response to critics who say the library was placing undue emphasis on popular materials at the expense of less-popular but important items, language that “the purpose of the library’s collection is to provide the most high-demand and high-interest materials” has been removed. Also removed was language stating that “to make space for in-demand materials, less popular or out of date items must be withdrawn.”

Under the new policy, low-circulating materials will be subject to review and “withdrawn as appropriate.”

In addition, the policy will now make it clear library staff and the public should have a voice in the selection of materials for the collection. As for items withdrawn from the collection, the revision replaces the option of “discarding” them with “repurposed.”

Moving forward, the memo to the board stated, the policy will help the library “expose items of lasting value and make strategic decisions about which items should have long-term access.”

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