Salem library review to return to Salem City Council this summer

A library-goer checks out a book at Salem Public Library. (Caleb Wolf/Special to Salem Reporter)

A dispute over Salem Public Library’s review of some of its books, which some feared would lead to a purge, could be resolved this summer.

Salem City Council on Monday directed library staff to continue only removing adult non-fiction titles that are in poor condition, retaining the rest, until at least June. Library staff will start work on a new report in May showing how the staff decide to keep, mend or discard books.

The new report would then go before the citizen-led Library Advisory Board and back to Salem City Council.

Councilor Chris Hoy, who made the motion that was then passed unanimously, said he hoped the report would help both sides of the dispute come to a compromise.

“Everybody agrees we want a great library, so we should be able to build off that and create a library everybody can live with,” he said.

The library’s review, enacted in the fall, caused a rift in some pockets of the community. Proponents said libraries need to be able to prune collections to keep shelves up-to-date for library-goers. Opponents said the review, in practice, would pull too much from the shelves.

The review had library workers systematically reviewing items – everything from books to DVDs to ukuleles – using a manual called the CREW Method, which guides libraries to evaluate based on condition and their usage, among other things. For books, staff review various qualities, such as how long ago the edition was published or when it was last checked out.

The review is currently not in full effect for adult non-fiction titles, which include travel guides, cookbooks, memoirs and more. Books that are in bad physical condition can still be discarded.

After testimony from both sides Monday night, councilors discussed Hoy’s motion and whether the library review should be a matter before council in the first place. Council is a policy-setting body, while day-to-day operations are the purview of administrators like City Manager Steve Powers.

The review is an extension of the library’s Collection Development Policy, a matter that went before council last August.

Hoy said keeping the review paused until the new report came out would give council a clearer sense of how the policy has performed. He said council would receive recommendations from both city staff and the library advisory board.

“We’ve got a lot of passion around this issue, we have a lot of information,” he said. “I think we need facts from the library staff as they do this weeding of books so we can make an informed decision in the future.”

As Councilor Tom Andersen put it, the review fell into a procedural “gray area,” between policy and day-to-day operations.

“I don’t know that I’m going to support one way or the other. My default would be to support the administration, but I think because of the passions … we ought to give this a little further airing,” he said.

Mayor Chuck Bennett stressed that he felt it was important the Library Advisory Board and library staff, such as City Librarian Sarah Strahl, give their input. He said council is “very proud of their work.”

“We’re not trying to undercut them, we’re trying to deal with a community concern and find an answer that brings everybody to the table with goodwill,” Bennett said.

After the motion passed, Jim Scheppke, a former director of the State Library of Oregon and a vocal opponent of the review, told Salem Reporter the motion was a “partial victory” because the review remains paused.

Three members of the advisory board, however, said they did not understand why the issue is going back to the board. In February, the board voted unanimously to recommend staff resume the review.

“We already made a recommendation,” said Lois Stark, board member. “Now they’re asking us to make another recommendation and I don’t understand.”

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