Chattanooga Public Library: The Purge

Since early 2012, library director Corinne Hill has been purging books from the Chattanooga public library. Nearly 140,000 out of 343,683 books have been removed, which has caused a large controversy within the community.

Before Hill chooses which books to discard, a computer system tracks how frequently books circulate. Tossed books are then moved to the library's basement, and Friends of the Library, a nonprofit organization that fundraises and advocates literacy programs, will sell the books through the nonprofit organization or online to World Books, which Covenant students can obtain for reasonable prices at

Mary Aleta Word, a previous volunteer for the group, said that Hill is "destroying the collections down there. There's no respect for books whatsoever."

Other Friends of the Library volunteers recall Hill's initial takeover. Books were rapidly vanishing from shelves, so the valuable opportunity to sell worthwhile art book collections was destroyed. "The main library's collection disappeared; all that was left was the browsing section that was downstairs,” said Hill's predecessor, David Clapp. “Many things that didn't depreciate in value were thrown out."

Hill, who stated that she did not document which books she purged, countered that criticism by saying, "Every library in the country has had some level of discontent with regards to weeding collections. Chattanooga has been behind so we are a little late to this game, but it is part of us moving out of the 20th century."

Hill believes that updating the library is part of a new national trend. Library experts across the board concur, stating that libraries of the 21st century are evolving. They are more than rooms and rows of books - they are fresh, inspiring meeting places for families and communities.

Online resources and creative outlets are essential to societal growth, and libraries are a major part of that. Despite change, they should first and foremost meet the demands of their community, according to Loriene Roy, a professor in the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin: "People get concerned with change. They overlook the fact that there are other ways to learn."

Hill's predecessor, David Clapp, also revised library collections. Clapp rid shelves of over 33,000 books in order to make room for reading and a coffee shop. Hill mirrored Clapp's innovations by creating space on different floors for a 3-D printer lab, a youth section complete with video games, a children's reading section, and a music studio. Hill believes that these additions have aided the library’s patronage, attracting national attention. However, Clapp questions if recent renovations have attracted guests, since book loans have decreased in the last two years.

Hill, like Clapp, believes that creative ideas help guests stick around, yet book borrowing has declined. During Hill's first year, 93,408 borrowers were documented. This year, there are only 79, 238 borrowers, a tentative number, since some patrons have not used library cards in two years. Hill states, however, that digital circulation increased by 40 percent.

City Auditor Stan Sewell has criticized the library's book removal methods saying that the library should use a careful system of checks and balances in order to ensure transparency. Officials should note which books or equipment are given or discarded to Friends of the Library.

Because of the considerable book disposals, Hill says that she will get rid of books on a restrictive basis, which is about 5 percent a year in order to keep a healthy, tidy library.