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Library stepped up book removal ; Officials say budget cut, expected layoffs prompted an increase in weeding-out process

An unusually high number of books were permanently removed from the shelves of the Central Library in 2010.

Some 67,019 books, periodicals and other printed material were weeded out, more than doubling those subtracted in the previous four years, according to library records.

Nearly half -- 32,349 -- were books found to be outdated, damaged, duplicates, already missing from the stacks or not being circulated. The library's standard weeding practice is to remove nonfiction books that haven't circulated in at least five years and works of fiction not checked out in at least two years.

The reductions were done to save costs as the library system converts to radio frequency identification technology over the next 18 months that will allow for self-checkout; to open shelf space after steep budget cuts led to consolidation of the second-floor collection onto the first floor of the Lafayette Square building; and to catch up on book removal that had lagged in recent years due to other staffing priorities.

The cost savings of not tagging the no-longer-desired print material with radio frequency identification technology was estimated at $22,576.

"In an effort to provide better patron service and prepare for our new self-checkout system, it was critical to weed our collection of uncirculated materials and was a major cost-savings move," said Bridget Quinn-Carey, the library system's director.

"Collection maintenance had not been the focus for more than five years because of budget constraints, loss of staff and other priorities at the time."

Administrators say the pace of weeding the collection intensified beginning in October to take advantage of staffing before expected layoffs went into effect. Forty-seven workers, including librarians, assistants and maintenance workers, were laid off today, eliminating the equivalent of 36 1/2 full-time positions, due to a $4 million budget shortfall.

"We stepped up efforts because we had the manpower and anticipated, worst-case scenario, not having the manpower after Jan. 1 to get the project done," said Joy Testa Cinquino, the library's public affairs manager.

But Tim Galvin, president of the Buffalo & Erie County Librarian Association, expressed concern about the sheer number of books that have left the Central Library and the speed in which it was done.

"The perception among staff in the last three months is that there was an absolute feeding frenzy going on, that the pace was hyper-accelerated," Galvin said.

"It was against all weeding policies that we have ever learned. I couldn't do it," one librarian, who asked not to be named, told The Buffalo News.

The books were selected from the library's "Dusty Book Report," which met the library's criteria for book removal.

Mary Jean Jakubowski, the chief operating officer, said that books from the list could have been retained at the discretion of a librarian and that some titles may have been on the list only because they had been checked out and never returned.

A total of 5,5851 books and other printed material were weeded out in 2008 and 2009, library records show. Then slightly more than 10,000 were removed in both 2006 and 2007.

Last year, the Central Library acquired 27,746 new print items, so with the weeding out of more than 67,000 items, there was an overall drop of 39,273 out of a collection of 1.5 million. More than 3.1 million books and other printed materials are in the 37-library system.

"We still have a really good collection, and we're going to continue to, as long as we have a materials budget and funding to build our collection," said Ann Kling, the system's support service administrator.

Some librarians have expressed concern that the library is reducing its commitment to its research collection at the expense of more popular offerings. Quinn-Carey said she was not aware whether a disproportionate number of books that were weeded out came from the research collection, which has been shrinking as more content becomes available online.

It's standard practice in libraries that weeding books is essential to managing a healthy collection.

"It's supposed to be that for everything new that you acquire, you have to consider something that no longer has relevance to the collection," said Michael Mahaney, who preceded Quinn-Carey as director, retiring in January 2008. But he cautioned that it needs to be carefully carried out.

"Weeding is something that should be judicious and thoughtful, and it really shouldn't be rushed. It does seem like [what the library did] was a little bit hasty, but there are factors affecting the decision I don't know. And I do appreciate that they were working under the gun," Mahaney said.

Administrators say the books went to a recycler only after first being offered at book sales over the course of four days in early December. Other books, they say, were donated to senior groups, the Erie County Holding Center and Erie County Correctional Facility.

Administrators said rules and guidelines of the Federal Depository Library Program were followed in eliminating printed material from the collection.

Some librarians believe, however, that the large number of books weeded out since October meant that many of them went straight to the recycler.

Diane Chrisman, a former library director who retired in 2002, said librarians are well aware that the public is uncomfortable with books being discarded from library shelves.

"Weeding is always a very delicate issue with the public, because the public feels these are materials they have essentially paid for, and why are you throwing them out?" Chrisman said.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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