Commissioners to review library’s plan to discard books – BlueRidgeNow.com

The Henderson County library has begun removing thousands of books from its shelves in an effort to purge outdated or unused titles, but some people in the community think valuable books are being lost.

A number of community members pleaded with the Henderson County Board of Commissioners about the discarded books at the board’s Sept. 8 meeting. Commissioners decided to halt the removal of any more books until the topic can be discussed further at the board’s next meeting, at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Library Director Trina Rushing said the material evaluation project is reviewing titles mainly in the nonfiction and biography collections, looking to discard roughly 5,000 books that are outdated or in poor condition, something that hasn’t been done at the library in a decade.

“Basically, what we’re doing is taking each title off our shelves and scanning and evaluating them based on condition, usage and based on the accuracy of the content,” Rushing said. From that information, the library will determine whether to remove or put the books back on the shelves.

For example, a book written in the 1980s about reconstructive surgery is no longer relevant due to advances in the medical field, and if a patron came to read that book in preparation for an upcoming surgery, he or she would be reading inaccurate information, Rushing said.

The library started looking at the collections in July and set a deadline of Oct. 1, she said, with a goal of discarding 5,000 books. While that may seem like a lot of titles, the library acquires about 2,700 books each year in those collections, she said.

However, library patrons like Hendersonville resident Ken Fitch say valuable titles are being lost, fracturing intact collections of related. Fitch also thinks library patrons have been left in the dark.

Fitch said he first heard of the project after seeing important titles for sale at the library for 25 cents. He went to look them up in the catalog and saw them listed for discard.

“We’re not against the process of discards; we’re concerned about works of literature, biography or history that have long-term value” Fitch said.

He mentioned the “mind-boggling” poetry collection, including local and regional poets, poets laureate and Pulitzer Prize winners as well as their collections of essays and commentary and some biographies, a collection that some libraries would put in a dedicated room.

“The unique thing about that collection was you had all this material in one place, and so you saw the interrelationships between the poets and the work and the world,” he said. “If you just take this book, that book, well you lose the whole interrelationship.”

Fitch also mentioned the drama collection, valuable in a community with two theaters. A book about the founder of the Tuskegee Airmen was also removed, he said, just as the play “Fly” about the Tuskegee Airmen was getting ready to hit the stage at the Flat Rock Playhouse.

“We’re not depleting any one area of our collection,” Rushing said. “We are making sure that the popular authors in all of our subject areas will still be represented.”

She added that highly qualified staff, with bachelor’s degrees in American Literature and history and master’s degrees in library science, are evaluating the books.

Rushing said that the library, like the country, is moving in a more digital direction. At the library in the last several years, use of digital titles has been increasing by 15 percent annually, and print usage has decreased by 7.5 percent annually.

And in January, the library will be moving to the NC Cardinal system, which will connect the library with 22 others across the state, providing access to about 5.1 million books instead of the just over 300,000 that the library currently owns, Rushing said.

The NC Cardinal system will be free, unlike current interlibrary loans, which cost $3.

Karen Heggen, who uses the Henderson library at least four days a week and is a current user of the Cardinal system, said “walking through the library and looking at titles is a way to find things.”

Fitch observed, “We all used to say, ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover,’ but you can’t judge a book by its online title listing,” mentioning picture books for children and books of poetry, which take some evaluation by the reader to make sure they’re a good fit.

The library has “just become a portal to access elsewhere instead of it functioning as the central cultural institution for the community that it’s always been,” Fitch said.

Another facet of the project is the fact that the library is working to make room for more meeting space, Rushing said.

Currently the library has one large auditorium, a study room that seats six to eight, four smaller study rooms, two of which seat four and two of which seat two. Those meeting rooms were used 3,000 times last year, she said.

The library is hoping to add two additional smaller rooms and one larger room that would seat up to 15 people.

Library patron Rand Bishop, who also spoke at the Sept. 8 Board of Commissioners meeting, wondered if the library is the right place for the county to be investing in more meeting spaces, instead of finding other meeting spaces that could augment the space the library has now.

“The need for meeting space doesn’t seem to carry the value that the cultural heritage does,” Bishop said. “If we have to sacrifice in one direction or the other, I would much prefer that it be in the area of meeting space.”

Heggen, Fitch and Bishop all said in the future, when the library looks to discard books, they would like for the library to reach out to the community and allow comment and the opportunity for public input.

Heggen said there were no postings in the library at all about the project, and that she and others went to the commissioners’ meeting last Tuesday to stop the sale of the discarded books at the Friends of the Library book sale that began this past Friday. They succeeded.