RACINE — Dozens of Unified faculty, staff, students and parents called on the Board of Education Monday night to stop district workers from removing what they said were thousands of books from their collections over the summer.
Several district librarians told board members that district workers, who lack library training, are entering libraries and removing thousands of books that had been rarely checked out or were older than 2000, including classics, often without the knowledge or input of the librarian on staff.
“There is no possible way for to me to explain tonight all of the criteria that librarians consider when developing a library collection,” said Kathleen MacAvaney, library media specialist at Gifford Elementary School. “The basis for this is the curriculum of a graduate level class, one that we’re all required to take.”
Although she said no books had been removed from her library, others reported large numbers of books being taken at Mitchell Middle School, Case High School and others.
District Superintendent Lolli Haws was out of town and unable to attend the meeting. Board President Dennis Wiser noted that she is the only person allowed to respond to public comments at meetings.
In interviews, Stacy Tapp, Unified’s chief of communication and community engagement, refuted claims that classics older than 2000 were being thrown away and denied that librarians were not given a say in the process.
The weeding is part of a routine, year-long process in which the district provides assistance in removing dated, unused or damaged books from district libraries, where perhaps staff do not have the time to do it on their own.
“The fact is we’re not banning books, we’re not burning the classics,” she said. “We just want the most engaging current materials for kids to read for pleasure and for fun.”
Tapp acknowledged that in cases where staff changes left a school library without a librarian over the summer, the district got permission from the school’s principal, but she said former librarians were included in the process.
One of the hardest-hit schools was Mitchell Middle School, according to Gabrielle Sharrock, who has worked as a library media specialist in the district for five years and will start as the school’s librarian next academic year.
She said she was not consulted about books being removed and she visited the library two days after the school was “weeded” and found dozens of boxes full of books slated to be destroyed, numerous shelves bare and most of the non-fiction section nearly cleared out.
“It was just devastating to see that,” she said. “If I had to replace all of those books with my budget it would take 16 years, and by then they would be outdated.”
Jessica MacPhail, director of the Racine Public Library, explained before the meeting that librarians are certified for these types of activities and understand how people use their library and their needs, which includes removing old, unused or damaged books.
“Part of a librarian’s job is to make sure a collection is up to date and well used and we take that very seriously,” said MacPhail, not directly connected to the matter but contacted by The Journal Times for an opinion. “Those are things that librarians are trained, go to school to be able to analyze and evaluate.”
Tapp said that although some books have already been recycled and others are planned to be donated to a charity that will send them to Africa, she said many books are being held for librarians to examine them.