Discord over Discards Resurfaces in Philadelphia

Article excerpt

The yelping of public library watchdogs in Philadelphia has turned into a low growl, in the latest fracas over the discarding practices of the Free Library.

Tipped off by alert patrons, the city controller's office October 20 impounded a flatbed truck headed for a recycling bin and carrying thousands of books discarded from library branches. The controller was riled because last year, following publicity that the library was trashing perfectly usable books (AL, May 1997, p. 19-20), Director Elliot Shelkrot agreed to a policy of sending weeded titles in usable condition to the Greater Philadelphia Book Bank for possible distribution to schools and literacy programs (AL, June/July, p. 30).

Shelkrot said in the October 22 Philadelphia Inquirer that the incident "is of major concern to me," and the library will redouble its efforts "to make sure the communication problem is solved." In an October 23 memo to the library board of trustees, library foundation board members, and library Friends, he said, "I take full responsibility for the communications gap that has occurred" and added that he was taking steps to correct it and ensure that books are not mistakenly directed to the recycling center again.

Jim Robb, president of the Northeast Regional Library's Friends group, however, was not placated. He told American Libraries that Shelkrot and his administrators "should all be fired. They have broken the public trust a second time now."

"I have a copy of the agreement that Elliot [Shelkrot] signed," Robb said, "and he obviously ignored it. We knew this all along; we got reports from all over the city that they have been doing this. …