Library board OKs public meeting

March 1, 2019

A group of residents who have been urging the Allen County Public Library to stop weeding large numbers of books got some results Thursday.

About a dozen people attended library board’s monthly meeting, saying they represented 1,922 signers of an online petition.

The petition, at Change.org, asks for an evening meeting open to the public at which the board and library officials will answer questions and respond to concerns about new library practices and policies.

Board members voted in favor of the meeting, saying they wanted it to take place in the next two to four weeks.

The board also voted in favor of the group’s second request to suspend discarding books until after the meeting takes place.

No date or time was set, but group organizer Kimberly Fenoglio of Fort Wayne thanked board members for what she called a willingness to be “transparent” with the public.

“We’re looking for transparency and an honest and open discussion,” said Fenoglio, who has been an on-call library staffer.

During the meeting, Greta Southard, library director, objected to Fenoglio’s using the word “purge” about deleting books that hadn’t circulated much or were old, worn or outdated.

She called the term “inaccurate” and “inflammatory.” She also denied librarians were facing “quotas” for discards. She said they were working with “targets and goals” because of changing needs for, and uses of, space.

“I do know targets and goals were assigned,” Southard said. But “quotas” imply penalties, she added.    

Among issues Fenoglio said she wanted officials to address at the upcoming meeting is an ethics policy for employees and whether and why the library is moving toward what she called a “popular materials” library model instead of remaining a library with a collection of breadth and depth.

She called the ethics policy “a gag order” because it calls for  discipline up to an including termination employees speak out against library practices or policies. The group, Concerned Library Patrons, would like it rescinded, Fenoglio said.

The board did not act on that issue.

In other business, Southard tried to clear up statistics on the collection filed annually with the state. She said errors had been made in the past. The 2018 statistics show 2.4 million print items, but she did not say how many of those are books.

Fenoglio used state statistics supplied by the local library to show the system’s collection decreased from 3.58 million books in 2014 to 2.13 million in 2017 : a difference of 1.4 million books. 

Board member Kent Castleman, said he did not like the group’s claim that the board was secretive. The board always acts at public meetings, he said, but few members of the public ever attend. The people who attended Thursday’s meeting “were the most I’ve ever seen,” Castleman said.