Discarded Oakland Public Library Books. Photos courtesy of John Jones III’s Facebook page.
Concerns over the erasure and preservation of Black history and culture in Oakland’s public libraries continued to grow this week, as City Administrator Sabrina Landreth explained library policy on discarding books, while District 6 Councilmember Desley Brooks rasied questions on the specifics of the policy and how it is implemented.
Oakland Public Library’s practice of discarding books was brought to public attention last week when community member Assata Olugbala showed up at week’s City Council meeting with an armful books on African American themes that the library had discarded.
One of the emails the Oakland Post received on the subject asked, “How do we protest the discarding of African American books at Oakland Public Library? I am infuriated!”
In a memo dated May 7 to the Oakland City Council, City Administrator Sabrina Landreth wrote:
“Upon research, these particular books, in addition to others, were withdrawn from the Elmhurst Branch Library, having been published between 1990-2007, about 11-28 years ago.
“Books are officially withdrawn periodically to keep the collection responsive to patron needs, to ensure its vitality and usefulness to the community, and to make room for newer materials or newer formats.
“When OPL discards a book, it is typically donated to the local branch of the Friends of the Oakland Public Library.”
In removing books from its 18 branches, Landreth said Oakland follows the guidelines of the American Library Association.
“Oakland librarians are professionals that receive formal training in the care and management of the OPL collection,” she said. “Decisions about what to have in the collection are made by subject specialists at each location based on the needs and interests of the community”
Brooks replied to Landreth in a letter, questioning the policy and seeking information on whether it was followed in this case.
“While your memo responds generally to the concerns raised it doesn’t provide adequate information to make an informed determination that the proper protocols were followed prior to discarding the books,” she wrote. “This is a serious and extremely troubling issue which warrants a more comprehensive response.”
Further, she wrote, “It is insufficient to say that we follow the American Library Association guidelines. We should revisit a policy which gives the public perception of purging the history and existence of a community. We should make sure that the community is involved in the deselection process. We should also develop a policy to donate discarded books to community and educational institutions.”
Citing OPL policy, Brooks said the library uses statistical reports to analyze whether books are being used by patrons, but “your memo fails to provide sufficient information to determine whether any of this analysis was completed,”
Said Post Publisher Paul Cobb, a former library commissioner, “It is going to be hard for African Americans to support a library tax this year when the Oakland Public Library shows such disregard for the preservation of Black history information and culture.
“I asked the mayor to resolve this matter, and she said she would look into it, but she has not responded,” said Cobb.