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Discarding Books at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library

Here is some raw video footage shot in October, 2009, for an upcoming documentary about the Buffalo & Erie County Library by filmmaker Sara McKenna. This short clip illustrates the ongoing weeding project at the downtown branch, and features an interview with an employee involved in the task.

We wrote about the low-profile project yesterday, and the Buffalo News has a piece about it today.

Ok, bibliophiles…is this libricide, or mere biblioclasm? You decide.

  • Jane

    I work at a large institution, academic, and we weed books all the time. Sometimes we get behind and there maybe a larger volume of books removed, other times less. The bottom line is there are rules to follow when this is done. No offense to the nice young man in the movie, but he does not seem to know what the process and rules are. I would suggest you speak/interview the person in charge of the weeding and that will either answer the question posted or not.


  • C

    I agree with the poster above. Surely the librarians at the Central Library are not sadistic book haters. Weeding of materials is a regular and common process in libraries and as the poster above noted, established criteria and procedures are followed in order to determine which books are no longer needed. While a book may be in an acceptable physical condition, its content may be outdated or may no longer hold value for the ever changing demographic of patrons that the library serves. While the volume and disposal of materials shown may be alarming, I too would suggest that others in an administrative capacity be interviewed in order to get a clearer picture of the criteria and methodology behind the discarding of books. The budget cuts to the library system are distressing and terrible, but I do not think that one can jump to conclusions about any wrongdoing on behalf of the library in discarding unwanted materials.

  • Toby

    While weeding is an important part of library collection maintenance, and every library has criteria for the process, this is far from a normal weeding “backlog.” It is a downsizing of a major research collection, and it is not being done by librarians who are knowledgeable about the material. In the past, items that were discarded were carefully considered and analyzed by the librarians who were familiar with, and even specialized in, that particular subject. The staff that thoughtfully developed these collections with the needs of patrons in mind are sickened by what is currently happening.

  • Kelly

    I work at this library and it is as it seems. Books are being recycled at an alarming rate. These are not old books or books with extremely low circulation statistics. Duplicates and books that haven’t been checked out since 2008 were discarded. I saw the dumpsters with my own eyes. I am a librarian and this is not how you weed. This is how you throw books away. Come visit and ask about our reference books. Good luck finding them. Any administrator who states that this isn’t happening is lying.

  • Buck Quigley

    The video was shot a few months ago, in 2010, not 2009. Sorry for any confusion.

  • Christopher

    This mindless destruction of library materials is commonplace here in Toronto but I am surprised that it also goes on unabated at cash-strapped BECPL. At the very least, as is stated repeatedly in the video, the materials should be offered free to the public. The “Librarians” involved–if such they deserve to be termed–should be made to read that fine little American classic, “Sounder”. They might then understand that one person’s useless book with a torn cover may well be someone else’s salvation. The discarded book picked out of a trash barrel becomes the young hero’s opening to a new world.

    As a frequent visitor to your fine Central Library and its Encore Editions sale room, I encounter many less fortunate citizens who could probably make excellent use of these discards. Shame on BECPL and thank you to the courageous employees who are speaking out.

  • Ted

    Just a thought, one these books were available to the public.

    Second, anyone notice these other posts are about non “librarians” going through the collection or “librarians” would better watch over the collection.

    Give me a break this is just pissed of librarians who got downsized looking to start trouble.

    How can anyone take seriously. Look into the policy and see what is going on.

  • Ted

    Wait #3- looked all over for this filmmaker sarah, nothing out there. I love her hand reaching into the pile of books to fondle the pages, very professional even for raw footage!


  • Fred

    Forget the documentary this should be a full length feature film.

    I can see it now, Ethan Hawke can play the guy in the video above, as the fed up angry librarian pushed to the edge and not going to take it anymore, he will fight to make things right. How about everyone’s current darling Sandra Bullock as the bookish love interest, she hesitantly ventures out from behind her desk to aid in the fight as they are brought together by their common love of the written word. Maybe pull Wilford Brimely out of retirement as the old hard edged curmudgeonly naysayer janitor who helps them navigate the pitfalls of the system and secret passages of the building. He could show them the huge pots of money stored away in the catacombs under the building.

    On the other side I can see Tommy Lee Jones as the nasty illiterate recycling truck driver belittling the staff, in his southern accent, as he feeds the hapless books into the churning maw of his truck. While upstairs in dark conference rooms the richly dressed administration plots its continued domination of the illicit confetti for drugs trade.

    You could add a bookmobile chase scene and some cool stunts with the book carts. Finally, top it off with agent Chuck Norris coming in and kicking everyone’s asses to save the day and you got yourself a real blockbuster.

  • Paige

    Librarians – even those who have been laid off (and NO I am not one of them)- are public servants. Period.

    They have chosen for better or worse to watch over collections of human knowledge and to defend their communities democratic rights to open access of information and for 1st amendment rights. They generally get the “worse” side of that choice. But they do it just the same, and continue even when they are disposed of by administration.

    If you read sarcasm in that I assure you, again, that I am not a librarian who has lost their job and is bitter – I am a paying member of our society – I actually OWN property and pay taxes – who feels the money we pay is being wantonly misused. I don’t need a page or librarian to tell me that what is being done at that library is wrong. The fact that these books are not ALL going to either a book sale (as they are soooo poor) or to a school library or community organization in need tells me enough.

    They are disposing of materials, tons of them, and attempting to “get rid” of them before anyone notices. I don’t know what deceit they are trying to hide but the action of trying to secretly remove these items and fail to provide numbers when asked for them tells me they are hiding their motives for decimating the collection as they have.

    If you thought this video was disturbing – you should have seen what they did while they were closed on Election Day and Veteran’s day – overtime for librarians to come in and “discard” books – all before the budget was finalized.

    Something is rotten in the County of Erie.

  • Fred

    Well here is what I think. Picture Norris, he has Lee Jones standing in front of the recycling truck and he says “I have a novel idea, why don’t you checkout this classic right from the Canon” (then he a executes a perfect roundhouse kick, frankly is Norris capable of anything but a perfect roundhouse kick, sending Lee Jones into the compacting machine and surely to his death)

    Hawke and Bullock embrace, everyone shares a thumbs up and fade out. Fin

    This thing writes itself.

  • librarian

    This kid has NO idea what he is talking about.

    You would weed that Vitamin book because any “medical” book that is over a few years old SHOULD be removed from the shelves – medical information changes too rapidly to keep.

    The silliest thing about this is that people get so worked up about books being recycled. EVERY library in the country does this – B&ECPL is not the bad guy here. If librarians were actually doing their jobs, weeding would be an ongoing process and therefore you wouldn’t have 19 bins of books for discard.

    It really bothers me that no one here seems to be informed about basic library practices.

    As for the “mildly warped cover book” – perhaps it hasn’t been checked out in 5 years – and there is a new title on that subject. So – you get rid of the one no one is reading, and you replace it with something new. It’s not a hard concept.

    All the librarians I know would be perfect candidates for “Hoarders” – it’s a welcome site to see a system being proactive about maintaining and refreshing its collection.

  • A School Librarian

    My concern is the comment about the comment about giving books to the schools.
    Why NOT? – There are many reasons.
    1. They might not age appropriate.
    2. These books have been sitting on shelves collecting dust because they are not being used – so you think dumping them on the schools is a good answer.
    3. The technology savy student of today will read books but they better appeal to the students – old and dusty and not on topics of interest will not appeal to the students, that have not appealed to the general public.
    So please don’t dump more ugly books on our schools. Get us some money to buy books and materials that appeal to our students!!!

    Think about this – I don’t see any videos when the library upgrades their computer system – how many of you are still using Windows 95?
    The publishing industry doesn’t stand still – even a book written about George Washington from 1960 is outdated. Washington historians continue to do research and find new material to publish. The layout and artwork has progressed to wonderful heights over the last decade – another reason to remove old books.

    Recylce the old materials and leave the good stuff.

    I was glad to see the recyling truck – some books desire to be recycled.
    The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library System is not the Library of Congress and we have systems in place now in the age of technology to get books via interlibrary loan when and if needed.

    Why not focus your energy on getting the cuts restored or go out to some of the branch libraries and see what their needs our – we have so much more to worry about besides weeding books – which helps keep the collection fresh and up-to-date.

    I would like to know if the person interviewed has the education background to make these judgements about weeding books – I appreciate that he loves books but the reality of life is that there will be a time that a book’s life cycle has been completed.

    Let’s move forward and not backward.

  • library patron

    Why are the books under guard and camera surveillance, and not being allowed to be given away or sold? THEY WERE PURCHASED BY THE PUBLIC AND DESERVE DISPOSITION IN A MANNER REFLECTING THEIR ACQUISITION. The BECPL is practicing the same hypocrisy as former Senator Thompson and his staff did when they shredded the public’s files.