If Awful Library Books has taught me anything (and it has), it’s that some books no longer merit taking up sacred shelf space in the hallowed carpeted areas of the public library. Some books are outdated, some books are too beat up, and still some books are just too weird (a magnificent feat in a place that stocks everything from mid-20th century erotica to Mein Kampf.) But what about the books that fall into none of the above categories, but have to go simply because they aren’t moving?
As you may have guessed, I was given my first real weeding assignment this week, in a section that apparently desperately needs it: romance. And my criteria was simple: if it hadn’t been checked out or requested within the past year, dump it. At first, I was dubious, but then I thought, what the hell, they’re romance novels, not literary genius, so I began orchestrating their demise… also known as deleting them from the system and putting them in the dark, mysterious “discards” bin. In the morning, a delivery truck would come and take them away to live on a farm with all the other unwanted books and we would never see them again.
I amused myself for the first hour by poking fun at the models, laughing at the hilarious titles (“One Night Pregnancy” took the gold), and occasionally wondering who was checking these things out, since I had not seen hide nor hair of a harlequin within 20 feet of the check out desk. But apparently, except for these unlucky few, they were flying off the shelf. It was only after I tired of playing God of Book Death that I began to think about what was actually happening to the books… well, not those books, but other, more interesting books that hadn’t been checked out in a year.
Were there different criteria for different sections? What about keeping the shelves looking full? What about discovering an old book no one had checked out in ages? And where did these dead books go? I received worrying answers to these questions, mainly along the lines of “I don’t know” and “Shouldn’t you be working?” As a new hire, it seemed prudent to do as I was told, but still, I wondered.
Anyway, in my neck of the woods, all energy flows according to the whim of the great magnet and all books are discarded after approximately one year of idleness, give or take. Do all libraries have this rule? This was something that, in my days as a blissfully ignorant patron, I had never given thought to, but apparently weeding is a major deal. Supposedly, all “good” librarians do it, and I want very much to be a good librarian. But I can’t help feeling badly for the books that are consigned to the scary discard bin, to go off to who knows what fate, just because no one had noticed them for a while. Although, maybe it’s just the beginning of their adventure…
But from this end, it seems pretty unusual to me. Weeding is major part of collection evaluation and development, I get that, but based on what the internet has told me, there seems to be more to it than the last activity date. The coolest (and I use that term very loosely) guideline on weeding had a set of criteria called MUSTIE that, in addition to being an adorable pun, actually laid out really good reasons to get rid of books.
M= Misleading, full of outdated or inaccurate information
U=Ugly, kid drew on it too many times in what we hope is brown lipstick
S=Superseded, replaced by a new edition
T=Trivial, book is about post-modern art
I=Irrelevant, see above
E= Elsewhere, the book is totally obscure, probably no one will ever ask for it, and even if they do, there are other copies available
I am sure you noticed, as I also did, that the T does not stand for Time, no one has checked out this book since dirt was invented.
So why is my library doing this? It’s not as if books are pouring off our shelves and out into the street, but the way the other librarians go at it, you’d think we get a tax break for every inch of free shelf space they can wrangle… We actually might, I really don’t know, but that’s not the point!
Part of going to the library, for me anyway, was the strangely reassuring look of packed shelves. Knowing I had a relatively unlimited supply of knowledge, actually SEEING the manifestation of it, was a source of immense comfort to me. It’s not terribly important to the functioning of the library, I guess, but why the hell would I want to look at a half empty bookshelf? I don’t have half-empty bookshelves at home! I like them full to bursting, spilling out over my dressers, books piling up in the corners and on my bed. But that’s just me, maybe other library-goers like the “spartan” look. I personally find it depressing.
Way back when, when the card catalog was emperor and borrower provenance was kept track of using stamps instead of bar code scanners, I used to LOVE pulling a book off the shelf and seeing a ridiculously old date stamped on that little card in the back. I felt like an archaeologist unearthing a relic, something no one had seen in a thousand years. (When you are seven years old, 50 years might as well be a thousand years.) It meant I was special too. The book and I were meant for each other. It had been waiting on that shelf for decades for my tiny little hands to grab it and now it could at last be taken home and read once more. It was glorious and it fed my love of books by allowing me to bond with them in an admittedly not-quite-sane fashion. But you can’t want your kid to love reading and not have them be a little insane. It doesn’t work that way.
So where are the patrons supposed to get that high from now? Granted, it’s not as if the age of the book is really visible to the borrower any longer, but every reader knows a neglected book when they see one. The dust on the top that belies the neatness of the spine, or, in the case of very old books, that musty smell, the way they sort of fall open in that “Yes! Read me now!” sort of way. Or even just by the old-sounding titles, e.g. A Blah-blahery of Blah-Blah in Blah, or the Blah-blahbying of Blahbler. (I’d read the hell out of that book.)
Despite these (in my opinion, quite valid) complaints, I really have no say in the matter. I still don’t know where the books go after the delivery truck takes them. The person I asked muttered something vague about a sorting facility or something or other, and couldn’t explain why we don’t just sell the ones that are in good shape. Not that I am particularly eager to add “One Night Pregnancy” to my own collection, but I’m not convinced it deserves whatever fate it eventually comes to wherever that truck stops. But then again, it’s not in my nature to get rid of any book, ever… except maybe this one.
I may update with other amusing titles as my weeding continues. Also, if you’re interested in a buttload of free romantic novels, let me know, maybe we can work something out. I still kind of want to rescue them from the so-called “sorting facility.”