ALBANY -- Deborah Sica pulls two books off the shelf in her office at the Albany Library. One is a paperback with a broken spine, the book falling apart into two pieces. The cover appears to have been bitten by a dog.

The other is a children's book about the United States with a drawing of the World Trade Center twin towers on the cover.

Sica, branch manager of the Albany Library, said these are examples of the kinds of books the library has been weeding in recent weeks, a process she said all libraries use to manage their collections.

"It's my job to bring the collection current," Sica said. "That's something we knew as a system this branch needed. The fact of the matter is that the collection grows and the building doesn't. Much as I'd like to have a two-story building, we don't."

However, that's not how everyone sees it. A recent story in the East Bay Express reported that staff members and library users were up in arms over the culling of the collection. One user, in an email to the Journal, called the throwing out of books "criminal."

"Books that are being thrown into the trash do not belong to the librarians, they belong to the people who paid for them, the taxpayers of Alameda County," the email read. "Instead of throwing books into Dumpsters, they should first be required to request permission to donate them to charities, book poor countries, put them on tables for people to take what they want, anything other than throwing them away."


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Sica said the library first offers books to the Friends of the Albany Library for possible sale but that many books are simply unsellable. So, they are discarded.

"We do make a good effort to make sure that our books are being used again," Alameda County Library system head of branches Peggy Watson said.

Watson explained that the Alameda County Library system uses guidelines known as "CREW," which stands for Continuously looking at the collection, Reviewing the collection, Evaluate the collection and Weed the collection. She said it's the same system used by libraries all over the United States.

"The reasons we do weed is we need to make space," Watson said. "We can't just buy books and not create space. People come in and see the shelves full of books, they don't see particular books. You want to make your collection more appealing. Also you want it up to date. You want the users of your library to know the information they find there is reliable and they can trust the information of their library."

Sica said the goal is to make the weeding an ongoing project, with different categories of books reviewed each month. She said shelves should be about two-thirds full according to library standards.

"That's been studied," she said. "It's the same way you would look at a shelf in a bookstore. That it's not overwhelming."

Sica couldn't provide exact numbers, but according to the Express, the collection went from 80,000 to 68,000 in about a year. Why did the collection get too big for the building?

"They've been weeding to a different standard," Sica said. "Now we are weeding to the county standard."

Watson and Sica both said the Albany branch had built up an excess of books over the past few years in part because of transfers within the county system. When a user requests a book from another branch, that book is returned to the Albany branch and becomes part of that collection rather than returning to the original branch. There are 10 branches in the Alameda County system.

"Albany patrons like books," Watson said. "They request a lot of books. More books float there than in some of our other libraries. Which means we have too many books there for how much room is on our shelves. They're getting more of the collection than they ever had before."

Another factor driving the process is that funding for the library system has begun to rebound after several years of severe budget cuts. That means the library can purchase more books, which in turn means it needs to be more aggressive weeding out older materials.

"We're moving into space where we can buy more," Watson said. "We've been very frugal for a while. Now, we're going to buy more because we can."

That is hardly a salve to those who are disturbed with the idea of a library throwing out books. People have a very personal relationship with a library. They believe part of its mission is to house books that might not be as popular as those found in a commercial bookstore.

"It's a careful balance of consideration," Sica said. "Shelf space is a precious commodity. Should I keep shelf space for something that gets checked out every five years or something on fracking, for example, that's more popular today?

"There has to be a process in place for the care and maintenance of the collection and this is our process."

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