One of the more arrogant of the librarians down at the Central branch
inadvertently gave it away today that the library, because of “finite
space,” was going to dispose of the locked-case H.L. Mencken and D.H.
Lawrence collection in the back, as well as other materials, such as
complete runs of valuable 19th century periodicals.
What’s wrong with this?
First of all, these collections take up little space. They are
being removed because the head librarian wants to enlarge the
offices. They were carefully shepherded over a 40-year period to the
point that Burbank has about the most complete collection of Mencken
and Lawrence in the country. Their collection of periodicals is
extremely rare in Southern California, and came within a hair of
being thrown out two years ago.
They are a valuable asset to our community. Worst of all, it’s a
lie that our library has a space problem. Both librarians and
“Friends of the Library” have remarked that the new Buena Vista
branch “looks so bare.” In five years we’re going to have a huge new
Central Library. So what’s going on here?
This isn’t the first time this has happened recently. Four years
ago, Burbank gave away the complete Warner Research Collection back
to Warner Bros., on the grounds that “they would keep the collection
intact, which is so important to us.” The first thing Warner Bros.
did was cherry pick the collection, and then gave away what they
didn’t want, COMPLETELY violating the agreement (ask former
councilman Ted McConkey about this. Ted was a big advocate of getting
rid of it). They even gave some books back to Burbank -- which
proceeded to sell them off for pennies on the dollar -- instead of
putting them back on the shelves many people claimed “looked empty.”
There’s no excuse for this. Even worse, they city refuses to
provide -- by law -- a specific list of all the surplus library
property they have gotten rid of. They don’t want anyone to know.
This library has gone through five directors in the past six years,
mainly because they can’t be pushed around to do these things
willingly. They gave them a lot of flack. But now they’ve hired an
insider who does anything staff wants, and who has never seen a
harebrained scheme she can’t endorse. Whose idea, for instance, is it
to remodel the Central Branch right now (closed for a week) when
we’re already going to tear it down soon for a new library across the
What’s going on at our library is an outrage, a complete violation
of the facility’s public trust of shepherding the valuable collection
we’ve built over the years.
Next week I am going to demand of the city a complete listing of
all library materials disposed of as “surplus” public property within
the last six years. When they refuse to provide it, which they will,
I’m going to sue them for violation of the public records act, much
as was done seven years ago with the San Francisco library. It won’t
be hard to do, and it will raise serious questions why they didn’t
compile a list in the first place.
It was bad enough what happened to the Warner Collection -- they
should at least have culled out useful materials before they gave it
away. Those of us who cared about this were slack back then. But
getting rid of these small, valuable literary collections, when
there’s plenty of space, is the last straw, as far as I’m concerned.