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Library responds to criticisms in document

May 2, 2019

A more-than-90-page document released by Allen County Public Library officials to answer residents’ questions reveals concerns that go beyond removing books from library shelves.

The practice, which officials have referred to as “weeding,” was the subject of many of the approximately 200 questions asked by residents after a public board meeting March 27.

But residents questioned many other library practices, too.

They wanted to know how the library used their personal information; whether a so-called gag order on library employees was limiting their ability to raise questions about policies and practices; and why a computer formula was being used in the selection and discarding of books.

Other questions centered on potential conflicts of interest between consultant companies; the timing and content of a survey of patrons; and whether the board had asked library director Greta Southard to resign.

The answer to that last line of inquiry sidestepped the question. “Questions related to Human Resources and/or specific employees are not open to public comment or debate,” the answer reads.

In the document, released late Tuesday to comply with a deadline set at the March 27 meeting, the board also appears to claim little responsibility for low employee morale that was alleged in several questions.

Asked whether it would consider hiring a neutral person to conduct confidential interviews with employees, the response states that such a move “is not necessary” in light of existing avenues for staff members to raise concerns through the library’s human resources department.

However, the answers also acknowledge a need for “more open communication” among the staff, and one answer suggests a new policy will be developed.

The library’s responses are posted in full on The Journal Gazette website in The Scoop section.

As for weeding, questions about how many and which books were discarded and why often were answered the same way : “Historically, no such records have been kept.”

That answer was repeated when a questioner asked whether it was “acceptable” to the board for the director not to have kept track : with the addition that “previous administrations” had not kept track either.

Library officials now say they determined in 2018 the collection contains 2.4 million printed books and that reports to the state for many years, including one that placed the number at 3.5 million books, were erroneous. A variety of reasons were offered, including duplicate records.

Kim Fenoglio of Fort Wayne, who has acted as a spokeswoman for community members with questions, said the library has not directly addressed many issues.

“Having read through the answers the board provided last night, it is clear they have yet to listen to the concerns the community has raised. Rather, they are still attempting to defend the indefensible through wordy answers and library-speak,” she said Wednesday.

“Is the public to believe that a data-driven entity like the (library) cannot run a report that shows the number of books discarded?

“No one would accept this kind of irresponsible inventory management from the CEO of a corporation. And yet in the eyes of this board, it is perfectly acceptable coming from the head of a taxpayer-funded organization.”

In other issues addressed in the document:

• The library denies it retains customers’ credit card information obtained through library transactions “for marketing purposes or to sell to third-party vendors.” But it does not deny it gets information about its users, though not individual-specific, through a system called Analytics on Demand. Under a new system to be put in place later this year, users can opt out of allowing information to be collected, the document states, but questioners say users are largely unaware of that, or any previous, practice.

• The library says a computerized algorithm developed by Collection HQ is being used to generate circulation reports, including books that are not commonly circulating. But the algorithm is used only “as a tool to assist” in weeding, not to make final decisions, which are left up to professional librarians’ judgment, the document states.

However, questioners pointed out that Collection HQ is related to another commercial entity, Baker & Taylor, from which the library purchases about 25% of its new books. The library says about 60 book vendors are used; that number is down from about 100 vendors in previous years under a more centralized purchasing practice.

• The library says that in one year, it purchased $800,000 in books that either were never checked out or circulated only once. The system is running out of space and expending hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep books, the document says. The practice of always retaining the last copy of a book was never official policy and is not supported by a majority of branch managers and the main library, the document says.

• The library denies that weeding was being done to prepare for a new book-tracking system known as RFID, saying it was never approved by senior management.

• The document reemphasizes that the genealogy collection was not subject to weeding.

At the March 27 meeting, the library announced that weeding was being put on indefinite hold; board members at a different meeting last month also delayed the adoption of a new wording for some library policies.

“The board has not yet determined the timeline for resumption of weeding. However, I can tell you that it will not resume automatically just because the responses have been delivered,” Stephanny Smith, the library’s community engagement manager, said in an email Wednesday.

rsalter@jg.net

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