Reference stock destroyed at refurbished Manchester library

The head of libraries at Manchester City Council has denied claims that up to half of Manchester's Central Library reference books are having to be destroyed because of a miscalculation over shelf space in the refurbished library, due to reopen next year. However the council has acknowledged that up to 300,000 items will "not be returning" to the library.

A letter, claimed to be from a source within the library, has been sent to local press and to individuals with a concern for literature, including author Melvin Burgess, warning of what it calls "cultural vandalism on an industrial scale" at the library.

The letter says: "The sad truth is that...library staff are engaged in a continuing process of segregating for destruction a large proportion of the very thing that makes Manchester Central Library unique amongst British 

Public libraries - its extensive and historic reference stock. It is probably that up to half the reference and lending non-fiction stock (up to half a million volumes) will have been destroyed by the time Central Library re-opens. These texts, which were housed in the old 'stacks' in Central Library, represented a storehouse of non-fiction reference volumes, many of which date back to the late 19th century." 

The letter also states that the criteria for the selection for books for destruction is "unclear" and that the staff given responsibility for the job "are not subject specialists" or even, in many cases, trained librarians.

"Once these books have been pulped (and many thousands of them already have been) there will be no record of them ever having existed," the letter continues.

A spokesman for Manchester City Council acknowledged that "about 300,000 items" would "not be returning" to the library. But a statement from Neil MacInnes, head of libraries for Manchester City Council, said concerns over this were "misplaced." MacInnes said: "What we are doing here is creating a world-class modern library, improving access to this gem of a building and the treasures it houses and any attempt to characterise otherwise is misguided. All valuable and historic items will be kept and indeed special storage units will help preserve our important historic collections."

MacInnes said the brief to the architect handling the library refurbishment was "never about replacing like with like" and the destruction of stock was "a much-needed housekeeping exercise" and that a previous focus on quantity rather than quality had led to libraries "amassing material almost indiscriminately." Examples of books that would not be kept included "outdated scientific or medical reference books, some periodicals, duplicates such as paperbacks that we have in hardback, or books in such poor condition that it wouldn't be cost effective to repair them."

He added: "No one who works at Central Library likes to say goodbye to any book and we will always err on the side of caution."