FORT WAYNE, IND. (Fort Wayne’s NBC) – A somewhat contentious Allen County Public Library Board of Trustees meeting Thursday afternoon gave concerned library patrons a chance to voice their concerns. Those concerned citizens walked away with something they didn’t expect.
“I feel very happy they are willing to meet with us. It’s very gracious. I’m also thrilled that they are putting a hiatus on the purging of the collection until a meeting can be held,” former ACPL employee Kim Fenoglio told Fort Wayne’s NBC after the meeting.
The ACPL granted Fenoglio’s request to put a pause on weeding books, until they can hold a public meeting.
As Fort Wayne’s NBC has reported previously, the group of concerned citizens has expressed outrage about current policy. They say Library Director Greta Southard has decided to weed out books at a faster pace than ever before. In their words, the collection is being “decimated.”
Southard says she’s not doing anything out of the ordinary. She says, part of managing a system is getting rid of books that have gathered dust on shelves unused.
The concerned citizens say she’s turning the library into a “popular materials” library. That’s a term Southard rejects. Through photos of empty shelves and an online petition, the group is trying to make the case, that the ACPL’s leadership is getting rid of vast amounts of books from its collection.
“Purging is what’s happening here. This is not normal discarding. This is not normal weeding. This is the purging of the collection,” Fenoglio said.
We took her concerns straight to Southard, who denied our request to explain photos of empty shelves. “I haven’t looked at all of the pictures you have, nor am I going to get into the Facebook myths and those sort of things that might be percolating,” she said as we tried to show her the pictures.
Southard disputed state statistics we discovered that show the library had
about 1.4 million fewer books in 2017 as it did in 2014. She says the numbers the ACPL provided to the state in the past, before she took over, were not accurate.
When we asked if a vast book purge was underway Southard responded, “I feel that’s not happening, do I have hard concrete numbers to go back to, no, because we haven’t been able to verify our historical numbers when we’ve tried to go back and replicate those numbers.”
Instead the ACPL calls what is happening, the “Magical Art of Tidying.”
That’s the name of a presentation the main library’s manager gave to the Indiana Library Federation Conference last year. The PowerPoint, obtained by Fort Wayne’s NBC, acknowledges that “weeding can be traumatic for the public.” It says that weeding is “absolutely necessary” and that getting rid of books that are “gathering dust” can clear up space.
“We’ve been able to create more space, so that we can add in more chairs, more tables, more spaces for people to gather,” Southard says. At the same time she says the main library, for example, still houses two floors full of books in storage.
The group behind the petition, believes “making room” is a sign of a change in philosophy “from a collection that met a wide array of interests and intellectual endeavors to a popular materials model whose focus is on the most high-interet, high-demand, high-circulating materials.” The petition claims, the new “focus is at the expense of a collection carefully developed and curated over the past 124 years.”
The group also believes that leaders with the ACPL aren’t being as open as they could be about their current process.
“This lack of owning what they are doing with the collection, if we’re going to this high demand, high circulation, high interest books, then let’s say that’s what we’re doing,” Fenoglio says.
Southard disputes the claim that the ACPL isn’t being transparent, and says they’ve held public forums, conducted a survey, and listened to focus groups.
Fort Wayne’s NBC also obtained an internal email form the main branch manager that states back in April of 2017 the ACPL was weeding out more books than he could keep up with.
In fact, the manager asked for a temporary pause back then writing, “You guys are simply just too darn good and efficient at weeding, and I need just a bit of time to make some more space.”
Again, the board granted Fenoglio’s request to hold a public meeting with the concerned citizens to address the weeding next month. An exact date and time hasn’t been announced.
In the meantime, library leadership promised to stop “doing what we’re doing with the books” until after the meeting.
Fort Wayne’s NBC News is committed to following new developments in this story. You can reach reporters Kaitlyn Kendall and Tom Powell with any information you think is pertinent for future reports at: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com