Friday, April 30, 2010

Shocked, shocked and appalled

Man Dismayed to Find Library Books End Up in Trash

The link above is for a story that appeared in the Bucks County [PA] Courier Times. Read it and come back here.

I see a similar story every few years. A citizen, somewhere, is appalled to discover that his local library is throwing away books. Books in good condition, relatively can this be? (In this version, they were headed to recycling.)

The journalist, Peter Hall, does a good job showing both sides of the story. The library director interviewed explains why the library is taking this action and what alternatives they explored before they made the decision to recycle the books. No, it's not so simple to sell or give away the books, it's not even that simple to recycle them--we once had Boy Scouts slicing off the covers of discarded books with box cutters, and it made me a little uneasy.

 In the article, and in the comments section below it, librarians and library users hash out the issues. I think there are some very interesting questions raised in this discussion: what is the purpose of the library? To be a Citadel of Fine Literature? To be a Wi-Fi equipped-alternative to retail book stores? To preserve the culture? To change with the times, have more DVDs, fewer books?

Ideally, impossibly, what people want is a library that can be all things, for all people: that buys every new book/movie/CD/magazine published and keeps them forever; is open every day and every night; is staffed by volunteers (with Master's degrees), and heated by fairy dust.

The truth is, we work within our means. We make choices all the time about what we'll buy and what we'll weed, and it's never easy. Well, sometimes it's obvious: take a peek at  Awful Library Books

The concerned citizen in Bucks County was looking for a particular book, which the library had recently weeded. At the very end of the piece (spoiler alert) he actually finds the book in the dumpster. The author mentions that the title is available on for $.01. Once I wondered whether to discard a book that hadn't circulated for decades. I took it off the shelf. The next week, a person walked in, and asked for that book. I made an interlibrary loan request, and had it for her in 48 hours.

The reality is that the library has limited resources. It always has. We have to make the best choices we can, and there will always be people who aren't satisfied with the choices we make. If we didn't make anyone unhappy, ever, we wouldn't be doing our jobs well.

1 comment:

  1. This, I think, is a perfect example of having to get over one idea to grasp another. If we rage against the censoring of books (ie book burning) should we not take the same view of any book's destruction? I think once a person realizes books are more than limitless ideas, they are real things, often mass produced, that take up space that is NOT limitless ... they will see the nuance.