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Opinion: Why I'm Disappointed in the Monrovia Public Library

I love libraries but am quite disappointed in changes at the Monrovia Public Library.

Why? Because I think the library has been far, Far, FAR too aggressive in clearing out old books.

I recently went to the Monrovia Library looking for a novel. I had read one by Nevil Shute that I enjoyed so I thought I’d try something else by him from the nice collection of his books on the shelf. But there was nothing by him. All gone. Oh well! The library also had a nice collection of adventure novels by Hammond Innes. But they're all gone, too. All of them.

I realize there needs to be space for new books, and it makes sense to replace old books that are seldom checked out with more popular works.

But that is not the case here. While the teen and children's sections are reasonably full of books, the adult section -- fiction and non-fiction -- has been whacked down to being less than 30% full. The stacks all have seven shelves; the top shelf and bottom two shelves are now empty and the middle four rows are only about half full. So there is only the equivalent of two full rows, 2/7ths, or 29%. Plenty of room.

I asked Librarian Carey Vance what is going on.

She wrote:

"Over the past few years we have been in the process of weeding the collection of damaged, out of date, and inaccurate materials which has freed up some shelf space. This aligns with the library's strategic plan goal of providing an up to date and relevant collection for our community. This also means we have room to grow the collection moving forward."

Removing damaged or inaccurate [*see footnote] materials I can understand but I am baffled how offering people so many fewer books enhances anybody's experience.

Nor do I understand why old, seldom-checked-out books can't be removed AS the library needs space for the new books. Why get rid of them while you have room and somebody might want to check them out?

Back to Vance's comments:

"In addition, we have been able to shift the collections to create a more user-friendly experience. All of the nonfiction titles have been moved to one side of the room, lessening confusion for browsers. And we've been able to move books from the top and bottom shelves, which could create accessibility issues for some of our patrons, to the middle shelves for easier access. We are still in the process of moving some of the more specialized collections so you may see some empty shelves right now but overall, we’re hopeful the changes we’ve made will make finding items so much easier."

So... It's better not to carry a book than to make a limited-mobility patron ask a librarian to reach it for him? I'm sorry, that makes absolutely no sense to me.

Regarding my inability to find the books I was looking for, Vance writes:

"As to the titles you mentioned, we are very lucky to live in an area with multiple library systems so whenever you are unable to find a book you are looking for, please ask the Reference Staff at the Front Desk. If we don’t have the book, we can find it for you from a local library and have it sent over. Or we are happy to call the library and have it held for pickup. This allows us to maximize the City funds we have for purchasing materials while still providing access to titles we may not own."

The library HAD the books I wanted. I don't see how getting rid of books the library already owned saved the city a penny.

Okay, you may say, but the world is going digital, and the library provides access to a vast array of digital books, right?


I installed the Libby app, which the Monrovia Library and the rest of the Southern California Digital Library consortium use to let users check out digital books from across the consortium. If you want to read current popular books, the Libby app is great. However, if your tastes lean towards anything a bit dated, the pickings are pathetic. I won't beat this to death, but suppose you want to read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Search on her name and all you'll get is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, not, incidentally, by Jane Austen. This, though tens of thousands of out-of-copyright books have been digitized and are available for free.

Vance responds:

"I completely understand, unfortunately the various publishers for ebooks have very strict and sometimes odd rules on what can be used where. As a public library consortium, the platform is limited on what titles can be purchased and used since they will be accessed by the public (vs. private copies of ebooks meant for use by one person). So even some public domain titles don’t qualify for public library use. The world of ebooks is a very strange one to be sure."

I grew up haunting libraries. I loved pulling down oddball books and flipping through them. It was kind of an adventure of discovery. Old books give you a different perspective on the world because views change over the decades and if all you read/hear/watch is contemporary, that's pretty much the only perspective you'll ever have. And if the old books that the library has discarded are replaced with new books to make the library's collection "up to date and relevant," as Vance says, all that does is reinforce group-think.

[* I was concerned about the library discarding "inaccurate" books. Vance explains: "When we say 'inaccurate' we are referring to particular subjects within the nonfiction collection such as medical or legal information that could seriously impact or even harm someone if the information wasn't up to date and factually accurate. This also pertains to technology subjects since computers and software are continually being updated. For other topics that may have more than one opinion, we ensure we have a balanced collection that provides titles from multiple viewpoints. Our weeding guidelines are based on national guidelines used by public libraries across the country and the librarians take great care to ensure the books in the collection meet these standards."]

- Brad Haugaard

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like Ms. Vance has worked herself out of a job, and the grand newish library building should be repurposed. Or perhaps demolished, so the homeless can use the land for subsistence farming.

    The fountain is a waste of water in these drought-ridden times, so that can go right now and free up some funds.

    It will take a few years but the progressives in education and government, at least in OR, don't care if kids can read, write or do maths. Libraries will be meaningless to such "students" as they grow up, and can be discarded. Modern, woke Monrovia can lead the way!!