Manchester Central Library – What the Fuss is About

I’m getting a lot of mails from people asking to clarify the main issues about the Friends of Manchester Central Library Campaign to save the huge cull currently going on of their wonderful reference stock, so I’ve taken time to write down the main issues …..

We are concerned about the way that Central Library has decided to slash its internationally renowned non-fiction reference and lending stock (Approx 500,000 books) by between 40–60%, with no public consultation, and has responded to criticism with spin, deflection and evasive answers. We believe that they are in the process of permanently damaging this important public asset. Transparency and accountability are at the heart of our concerns.

The main points are:

• As far as we can tell, there has been no public consultation concerning the fate of book stocks whatsoever, even though the library is slashing its non-fiction reference lending stock by up to 60%. A great many Mancunians will be on the train down to London to the British Library after this.

• Throughout, the library has insisted that they are only weeding out-of-date, damaged or duplicated books. This is simply not possible when talking about such a huge percentage. Recently they have also been talking about irrelevant books – but we have no idea what they mean by that. We believe they are actually working to a percentage, made necessary by the vastly reduced shelving space allocated to non-fiction reference volumes in the architect’s plans for the new library.

• When the reduction process began, Central Library posted on the FAQ’s on its website that they were anticipating no significant book loss. Later this turned into 300,000 – a full 60% of non-fiction reference and lending stock. Once our campaign was under way this dropped overnight to 210,000 – still over 42%. We do not believe they have been operating with any coherent policy.

• The library has done its best to conflate the actual reduction with the full number of volumes in the library – approx. 1,000,000. But once special collections, such as parliamentary papers, which are exempt from the cull, and other collections such as fiction, local history and music are removed, this leaves 500,000 books for the 210,000 to come from: 42%.

• The Library continued with the process of disposal for eighteen months without any Stock Editing Policy being published. After this campaign began, this document was published – then taken down – then re-posted with changes reducing the effectiveness of the transparency clause. We believe there is a strong possibility that this document was only written in response to our questions, and that for the past eighteen months, they have been operating with no coherent Disposal Policy at all. Everything is being done on the hoof in order to fit stock into a reduced space.

• There are only five, non-specialist library staff going through a total stock of 500,000, with no special training – an impossible task for such a small number to do properly. Also, however experienced these people are, they are not the subject specialists that this kind of work needs and deserves. Claims by the library that they call in subject specialists “When required,” are specious. There is no information as to under what circumstances, or when, or how they are called in or who these people are. We believe that many valuable books have been already pulped or sold on.

• We believe that the cost to the library, and money they receive for the books they sell – is somewhere between 10 and 20p a book. This represents bad value for money, in disposing of a valuable publically owned asset.

• We want the disposal process to be paused while full consultation with users, including universities, writers, other libraries, museums, readers and the local community is carried out. Once they have compiled a proper policy, based on the desires of the people who have paid for all these books, that policy should be carried out with transparency and accountability to the people of Manchester.

If you want to help put pressure on Central Library to consult before they pulp, please like our new Facebook page.

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One Response to Manchester Central Library – What the Fuss is About

  1. Cary Watson says:

    Based on how our library system works, staff are probably deleting based on publication date. If it was printed more than ten years ago, or if the usage has fallen to one per year or less, it’s for the chop. Those simple parameters make it easy for non-specialized staff to weed a collection. That massive a cull indicates they want to save on shelving, especially if it’s the kind of special shelving that’s used in archives, which is very expensive. And if they’re also planning to RFID tag all the books, that’s another reason to halve the collection: those tags cost about 50 cents each. At the very least they should have subject matter experts on hand to refine the criteria for eliminating books.

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