Salem library to pause review another month following lengthy public hearing

A person examines a book at Salem Public Library. (Caleb Wolf/Special to Salem Reporter)

Debate that was sometimes contentious and sometimes poetic lead to the shelving for at least a month of a rigorous review of library books.

The Salem Public Library Advisory Board unanimously agreed Wednesday night to keep the review, which many worried would lead to an excessive purge of books, on hiatus until it meets again in February.

The nine-member board can’t direct the library staff, and city officials had earlier planned to reinstate the review on Thursday, but Norm Wright, director of Salem’s community development department, said the library would honor the advisory board’s request.

“We’ll continue that partial slow down and our hope is that we can get a better sense of any remaining questions,” Wright told Salem Reporter. The library advisory board will meet again Feb. 13.

City Librarian Sarah Strahl said she was happy to see so many people asking questions about the library. At least 80 people attended the meeting.

“It’s good to see people so engaged with the library,” she said. “You’re always happy to see that.”

Many of those people took the opportunity to ask questions about the review, which was enacted in September because library officials said the library had become “outsized” in recent years compared to libraries with similar budgets and serving communities the size of Salem.

The review tasked library workers with systematically reviewing items — everything from books to DVDs to ukuleles — using a manual called the CREW Method. The manual guides libraries on evaluating items to keep, mend, or discard.

The manual specifies libraries should review books based on the Dewey Decimal System. In each category, it advises librarians to review books based on how long ago such books were published, last checked out and their condition.

In December, the Salem library put the review on hold and said it would only weed books in poor condition until the public had a chance to discuss.

By and large, speakers Wednesday night agreed libraries should weed books to keep collections interesting to people they serve. But some worried the library could be moving too quickly.

Jim Scheppke, a former director of the State Library of Oregon and a vocal opponent of the review, called for the library to slow down. He argued the library has removed print items at a higher rate since 2013 than standards advise.

“I think the community wants them to slow down,” he said. “It’s pretty simple. They got an earful tonight. You ask what the community wants, I think they heard it.”

Kathleen Hill, a retired school librarian, said she understood how students and school staff felt when she had to discard books to make room for more book. But she urged Salem librarians to be cautious.

“When there’s room (on the shelves), err on the side of conservatism,” she said. “The last couple years coming into the library I’ve seen more and more open space and I said to my husband ‘Where are the books going?’ There’s room. There’s lots of room.”

A handful of librarians from public libraries in other towns spoke in support of the library’s review. Ted Smith, Newport Library’s recently retired director, said winnowing collections — even discarding what some people consider classics — is a hard but necessary process for public libraries.

“I’m a librarian, I’ve been around books all my life, I’ve taken some of my favorite books off the shelf for the simple reason that they’re not circulating, they’re dead weight and they take up space that’s needed for newer and more popular materials,” he said.

Some made their points with flair. B. Lee Coyne, a former member of the library advisory board, read a poem he wrote called “An Ode to the Library.”

“I think that I shall never see a more lopsided library creating such adversity turning shelves to agony. Who be that gnome who snatched our books despite the public’s dirty looks? We won’t be silenced, hear our plea, restore those books’ diversity. The end.”

Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-575-9930, [email protected] or @TroyWB.