Friday, 29 June 2012

'Manchester, so much to answer for' (The Smiths)

The 'Manchester Central Library Transformation Project' as Neil MacInnes, the Head of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, likes to call it, or as others like to call it "cultural vandalism on an industrial scale". is causing a storm of protest from authors, library users and campaigners. And more recently some library management heavyweights have joined in the on the discussion at

The number of books being ‘pulped’ or disposed off range from 210,000 to over 500,000, and the official reasons for them being ‘pulped’ or disposed off range from a 'miscalculation over shelf space in the refurbished library’ to "a much-needed housekeeping exercise"!

The reason I’m particularly interested in this story is that I’m a Reference Librarian, a dying breed, and in my 20+ years of working in Public Libraries have witnessed the 'pulping' and selling off, usually at a pittance, of thousands of 'reference books'. I've also witnessed rare and valuable books and manuscripts being left to rot in damp and mouldy basements and have personally saved hundreds if not thousands of books by kicking up a fuss, cataloguing them and publicising their existence, I’ve also facilitated the donation or loan of special collections to other specialist libraries. If I hadn't have done this they would have either been left to rot or boxed up and sold for a pound a volume to a second hand book dealer who would then sell them on for a very healthy profit!

Some of the books, in the collections that I am talking about, where 'weeded' because they where out of date, in bad condition or just never ever used and this process is crucial to good stock management, and I'm sure that this to some degree is what is going on at Manchester Central Library, but the vast majority where disposed off due to the space taken up by the collection being needed for another use, the reference library was downgraded, moved or closed down, there wasn't enough staff, money or time too administer the collection or specialist staff where made redundant, downgraded or moved to other positions!

Hackney Libraries years ago scrapped one of their reserve stocks, they got non-specialist and inexperienced staff to dump it in a skip out side the Central Library, a member of the public spotted it and alerted the local press and the skip was removed but the process continued behind closed doors!

Reserve stocks and special collections are being lost up and down the country, this network of collections all link together to form a valuable and important resource which should be protected and managed properly for future generations and the national good!

In my opinion the 'weeding' and disposal of between 210,000 - 500,000 books, papers and manuscripts is not normal stock management and surely some of the stock could have gone to other collections or appropriate good causes?

For links to news stories and letters relating to this story see;

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