Monday, January 15, 2007

The Discard Dilemma

For the past two weeks I’ve been doing something shocking, some might even say evil.

No, I’m not talking about writing this blog.

I’ve been throwing away BOOKS.

I work in a high school library. I’m not a librarian, but I run the circulation desk, do all the displays, new book prep, and supervise the after school library program. My official title is Library Educational Technician III. It may sound fancy, but it absolves me of all the tough stuff: the purchase orders, painstaking cataloging and making the crucial decision each year as to which books get tossed. The teachers and library staff are offered the discards, but most of the books are outdated and/or in poor condition, fit only for the school dumpster.

This year we’re weeding the 900s. For those of you who don’t know the Dewey Decimal system, that’s geography and history. Out goes Life in the Soviet Union, a biography of the five Eisenhower brothers, Singapore 1983 and Hallam’s three volume Middle Ages history set….printed in 1864. No way could I throw the latter away. I’m not writing medievals, but you never know. They’re going on my bookshelf, joining Lucille from last year’s purge, written by Owen Meredith c.1880 (real name Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton and son of that dark-and-stormy-night guy).

Another great find: a month-by-month accounting in 1815, “the most dramatic, exciting and pivotal year in history,” according to its author John Fisher. From Wellington to Waterloo to Byron to Barbary pirates, I just might learn something about the era I write about. And it’s illustrated!

I weed my own collection, too, usually giving books to friends or donating them to the public library. Who’s on your permanent reserve (keeper) shelf? Do you discard? Don’t send any volumes my way; the dumpster’s pretty full.

And for future reference (another library allusion), I’m starting each week with a new post, so Mondays mean Maggie Robinson Means Romance!


Tiffany Clare said...

Damn Mag's! I wish I could get my hands on some of those...I usually keep all my books. My library is oh-around 1000's been teetering there for a while. Not going over, just hovering at the breaking point.

I go through purges of fictions once sometimes twice a year, but usually only get rid of around 30-50. I keep all my history books and buy them when I see them in second hand stores. You just let me know if you'd like to send some north of the border I'd be happy to take those oldies off your hands!

nearhere said...

Maggie, I'm a bad woman. I throw books out all the time; I haven't got room for them in my small apt.(I feel like blogger with how it always seems to delete my comments grrrrr)I keep the books that I really liked and throw out the old ones. These days I am preferring to keep books electronically just because its easier to save them (plus they are usually less expensive).

I reletively recently started a new school and had to get familiar with a new library where unlike my last 'home' keeps pretty much all the older books on site. It's kind of run to troll through the shelves of antiquated sociological research and the like and look at all the faded titles that appear not to have been checked out in several decades.

MarcAntonia said...

i have boxes and boxes full! i can't get rid of my books--though i actually did take two small bags by the UBS for trade credit today... if they are any good, i keep them, its only when they are horrible that i allow myself to get rid of them...

and, because i'm a history nerd, i have a ridiculous tendancy to take EVERY history book that i can find if they are being given away, and i never sell back the textbooks---so my library grows exponentially every single year....

terrio said...

I am terrible about getting rid of books. The irony is that I never re-read them. I just keep them. I never even thought to re-read them until I joined a certain BB we all know. So I have alot of books though I have no idea how many.

And I love to pick up really old books at flea markets or antique stores. I have a little collection of everything from a very large book of poetry to an book on manners and etiquette I think written at the very beginning of the 20th century. I'm a sucker for old books and would be happy to take any of those off your hands, Mag. Just the thought of having a book written in the early 1800s makes me swoon!

Evangeline Holland said...

I share the same problems when it comes to possible research books! Especially when they're LONG OOP and/or HTF--my greedy little fingers just can't let go!

lacey kaye said...

woo-hoo! Links! Awesome. Had to come see for myself :-)

Anonymous said...


It's such a shame to discard any book.

But email me when you get to the poetry! I have a strange love of the stuff. Perhaps because I have some published, I dunno, but I love poetry.

MarcAntonia said...

yeah, if you want you could send some my way too! ;)

Lindsey said...

I find it so hard to get rid of books. Even when I didn't particularly like a book, I just never know when I might want to reference something in it!

On the other hand, I take a lot of pride in my collection of books and I like to think they say something about who I am as a reader - so I dislike hanging on to books that don't seem representative of my taste. I find the occasional book purge to be satisfying - and necessary to keep my house in order. I usually donate extra books to the library, though lately I'm addicted to paperbackswap.

Sherrie Holmes said...

Maggie, I could cry. Throwing away books! My library system used to gather all the discards from their various branches and then had really huge sales 2-3 times a year. Hardbacks went for $1 and soft covers for 10 to 50 cents. People came from 3 states to these sales. They were incredible sales, with some real treasure to be found. My personal library consists of over 5,000 books, most of them hardback research books on history, gleaned from these sales.

Well, a couple years ago they quit having the sales because it was too expensive to store books between sales. Now they sell them all to a book reseller who is out of state and who charges way too much for the books. It's mail order only, and with postage added, puts them out of my budget. As I said earlier, I could just cry.

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Last year was the first year I worked in this library. I have to agree I was pretty surprised about the whole discard process...but as the librarian explained to me, a school library is a "living thing." Resources that are no longer relevant or supportive of the curriculum must make way for books that are. At first I felt nearly criminal boxing up books, but I've made peace with it.

Even after discarding, the average age of our collection is only into the early 1980s. The school was consolidated from several towns, and there were books from schools long closed...and some had already been previously discarded from other libraries in the 1920s! Lots of books hadn't been checked out since the 60s. One book, The American Presidents, stopped with FDR.

From what I understand, because books are bought with public school funds, they cannot be sold. I looked up some of the volumes online and they were only worth a few $. Our librarian says once a book is stamped and processed, its value to a collector goes down...kind of like driving a new car off the lot.

And we're talking significant mold and mildew issues, too. Some books literally fell apart in my hands as I was demagnetizing them. I've gotten a lot more sanguine about getting rid of some of these. Of course, we haven't yet discarded fiction, which is far more timeless than the geography books on countries that don't exist anymore.

But I can appreciate the horror of throwing books away...which is why I wrote this post to begin with!

Ericka Scott said...

I give the books I can't keep to the local public library. It's a sad but necessary thing in our house as we just don't have the room!

There are a few that I just can't part with. . . Doug Preston/Lincoln Child titles, some NR trilogies, and my nearly infamous Nancy Drew collection. I started collecting them when I was in Jr. High. . . I have all the yellow hardbacks and am starting to add to the paperbacks.

Tessa Dare said...

Well you know, I'm a librarian - and I've thrown heaps of books in the dumpster. You have to, if you work in a school or public library. We aren't archivists, we public and school librarians - we select, organize, and provide access to information that meets the needs of our patrons. And in a school library, a book that implies the presidency ended with FDR, or suggests that Yugoslavia still exists as one country, or boldly predicts, "Someday man will walk on the moon" is NOT serving the needs of the students.

God love 'em, those kids don't know how to discern between good and bad information - they figure, if it's on the library shelf (or on the Internet for that matter), it must be "true." It's the librarian's responsibility to keep outdated information (and toxic mold spores) off the shelves.

You're doing a good thing, Maggie.