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Library leaves critics unfulfilled

March 28, 2019 GMT

More than 250 people in a standing-room-only crowd packed the main auditorium at the downtown Allen County Public Library on Wednesday night looking for answers.

But they didn’t get the one they were looking for.

How many books have disappeared from the county’s library system the last few years from what critics call a “purge” and library administrators call the accepted practice of “weeding?” 

Library officials admitted they just don’t know that number because of various factors that include inaccurate reporting to the state that counted duplicate records for a time.  

But they said it’s inaccurate that 1.4 million books, the latest proposed number, have been removed. They added they can only say that as of 2018, the system has 2.4 million printed books. 

Many of those in attendance were surprised to learn that a computerized formula called an algorithm was helping call the discards.

Peter Mallers, the Fort Wayne attorney for the library’s board of trustees, said reports provided by a company, Collection HQ, “informs the process”  of discarding books, but “it does not dictate it.”

Librarians oversee the practice, he said, but that was disputed by some of those who spoke in response.

And the question : and answer : also revealed that the company is affiliated with a second company, Baker & Taylor, with which the library system spent 25 percent of its book acquisitions budget last year. 

Fort Wayne resident Kim Fenoglio, an organizer of Concerned Library Patrons, called that a conflict of interest.

The group submitted a petition with about 2,000 names opposing the discards, sought the meeting and led the library board to put weeding on temporary hold.

The board announced it would continue to hold off until April 30, when it would post responses to unanswered questions asked Wednesday night or submitted to Trustees@acpl.info by Wednesday.    

Mallers, who led the meeting from the stage backed by library board members, read through a PowerPoint presentation that did not address additional questions pre-submitted by residents if they were not on the subject of book removals.

Those questions included one about what the library was doing with patrons’ credit card information.  

About 20 people, including Fenoglio, were given time to speak or ask questions after presentations by Mallers and Greta Southard, library director.

Fenoglio said the board was offering a continuation of “non-answers and broad, baseless denials.”  

She said she would ask the Allen County commissioners, the Allen County Council and the boards of Fort Wayne Community Schools and other pubic school boards in the county to exercise oversight of their appointees.

“You now know what the public knows,” she told board members. “You are the ones who can right this ship.” 

Ben Eisbart, a member of the library board, said the meeting made clear the board could communicate better with the public.

“Hopefully, we helped clarify some of the misconceptions,” he told The Journal Gazette after the meeting. “We could communicate better. Tonight, I hope, will be the beginning of that process.”

rsalter@jg.net