The shelves of the Escondido library, once filled with titles, are now laid bare
Longtime Escondido Library volunteer Virgina Abushanab doesn’t like what she sees when she looks at the city library shelves. Perhaps more to the point, she’s not thrilled with what she doesn’t see – books.
“In the past four years since LS&S took over, there has been a relentless purge of our library shelves,” Abushanab wrote last month in a letter to Escondido City Council, library board, deputy city manager.
“The people who ‘deselect’ books from the shelves have removed so much, what remains makes our once beloved library look sickly. There are so few books left that the very idea of perusing and stumbling upon an unknown delight is gone.
In 2017, city council voted to outsource the operation of the South Kalmia Street City Library to Library Systems & Services, a private Maryland company. LS&S took over the library’s operations in January 2018. The move was controversial, as many in the community urged the board not to approve the outsourcing contract.
Abushanab, a retired librarian who has also volunteered for 20 years with the Friends of the Escondido Library, plans to bring her concerns to the library board at its meeting on Thursday at 2 p.m. at the town hall. The council advises the city council on library matters.
“I see the library as a repository of our common culture. A book is something precious, ”she said. That’s why she finds it hard to understand why the library is dropping books at a rate that seems to leave the shelves empty.
“I can’t understand why a book on a shelf is more harmful than an empty space,” she said.
In her letter, she lists half a dozen books that she says were available at the Escondido Library, but are no longer part of the library’s collection. They include “Opening Day: The Story of the First Season of Jackie Robinson,” by Jonathan Eig, and “Einstein, His Life and His World” by Walter Isaacson. She also attached photos of several sparse sections of library shelves.
According to Joanna Axelrod, deputy director of Escondido, the city’s written collection policy states that books can be removed from the collection if they have not been checked out for two years. However, staff have extended this period to three years since there is space available.
“The library’s collection is constantly evolving. Items are ordered and weeded throughout the year to provide the most up-to-date and best-maintained collection, ”Axelrod wrote in an email.
The number of books added and removed from the collection varies from year to year. For example, in fiscal year 2016-17, the last year under the city’s management, 54,842 items were removed and 17,520 items added, according to Axelrod. Under LS&S, from August 2019 to May 2020, 6,075 items were deleted and 23,917 added; from June 2020 to May 2021, 30,854 items were removed, while 17,414 were added. These figures included both printed books and e-books.
Overall, the library’s print collection has shrunk since LS&S took over. According to Axelrod, the library’s collection stood at 158,432 physical items when LS&S took over in early 2018, and as of May 4 of this year it stood at 129,431, a decrease of about 18%.
Axelrod said there are a number of reasons the shelves are bare in some areas of the library. During COVID-related library closings, she said, the collection has been rearranged to better accommodate user behavior. Library staff try not to use the top and bottom shelves for easy access for staff and clients.
Axelrod said the library’s strategic plan called for removing some shelves and installing shorter shelves to create space for the library’s programs and improve sightlines, which would eliminate some excess shelves.
During COVID-19, the library increased its purchases of digital materials by 67% because customers were unable to visit the library in person and vendors were delayed in shipping printed materials, Axelrod said. The library is seeing an influx of items that will soon hit the shelves.
The shelves may also look more empty than usual because during COVID-19, books were quarantined on their return and displays were removed to reduce transmission of the virus, Axelrod said.
Prior to COVID-19, deleted books were donated to Friends of the Library to sell and fundraise for the library, and during the COVID-19 shutdown, they were also placed on carts in front of the library where the public could take them for free.
She said that if a certain book is not available in the collection, customers can request it through interlibrary loan or request a purchase from the Escondido library.
Elmer Cameron, a member of the group of friends and a former member of the library’s board, said the practice of weeding books, as it is called among librarians, has been going on for years.
“There are so many good new books available to the public and they only have so much storage space,” Cameron said.
“There is a need to weed,” said Michelle Jeske, president of the Public Library Association and director of the Denver Public Library System. “Weeding is essential to keep collections fresh and relevant.”
She said her library system does not have a set policy on how long a book can stay on the shelves without being checked out, and library staff can exercise their discretion over such decisions. But she said the practice could vary between different types of libraries, such as branches or a central library where books could have a 10-year shelf life.
Fitness and the subject of the book also come into the equation, she said.
“We don’t want people looking at 10-year-old medical or computer programming books,” Jeske said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.”
Jeske said his library system has a collection maintenance team that meets monthly to plan strategy and provide advice to library staff.
“It’s just an ongoing conversation and practice and not something you work on once a year because the shelves are suddenly overloaded,” she said.
The San Diego County Library, which operates 33 branches in the area, regularly weeds its book collection, most often due to obsolete, in poor condition, or declining demand books, the library spokesperson wrote. Donna Durckel in an email.
The county library has no time limit on how long a book can be kept if it is not checked out, but Durckel said circulation history is a factor in weeding decisions.
Since LS&S took over management of the Escondido library, the company has made a number of positive changes, Axelrod said, including increased hours, the elimination of rental fees for DVDs and audiobooks, and security. improved and technological upgrades. The city has also saved around $ 400,000 a year in library running costs, she said.