Monday, October 19, 2009

The Librarian's Dirty Secret

Today we're going to talk about the one aspect of library work that generally horrifies the public and that some librarians drag their feet on. Yep, I'm talking weeding. That process where librarians actually get rid of books. As in, take them off the catalog, stamp them "discard" and either 1) toss them in the nearest dumpster or 2) give them to the Friends Of The Library to sell.

The horror!

My experience with weeding is that the public doesn't understand it, and that some librarians really suck about doing it. Weeding has to be done people. It's part of the circle of life in Library Land. As much as we would like them to, books just plain flat-out wear out. Spines get busted. Pages turn crispy brown. And accidents happen. Someone drops the book in the bathtub. Or leaves it outside in the rain. A curious tot thinks it's a neat-o new coloring book. Or the dog thinks it's a tasty new chew toy. Shit happens. Sometimes literally (ewwww!) to library books. So they have to go.

When it comes to fiction, I tend to preach condition, condition, condition. Always weed on condition, first and foremost. Look people, I don't care if the darn book is The Great American Novel, if it looks like it was buried in someone's backyard for the past 10 years, it's time for it to go. If it's truly that important and vital, sooner or later some publisher will realize they can make money off it and reprint the darn thing.

But weeding is sometimes about hard choices. I had to make one today. Yep, it's time for my library to say goodbye to The Tender Texan by Jodi Thomas. Published in 1991 and currently out of print. According to OCLC, we have the only copy in the entire state. We've been housing it in our closed-stacks-storage section for a while now, given it's borderline fragile, not- so-appealing condition. This bad boy has been a circulation stats machine. We've sent it hither and yon. However, when I stumbled across it today in our InterLibrary Loan department, I knew it was time for it to go.

You know how the paper in mass market paperbacks goes yellow? Well this book has gone right past yellow and is now the color of dirt. The discoloration has gotten so bad, that the dirt brown is now bleeding past the margins and landing on the first few words of each line.

Ewwwww.

In the grand scheme of things, considering it's a 18 year old paperback that has circulated 67 times in the past 6 years, it could probably look worse. That said, it didn't look anywhere near "good." So even though we had the last copy in the state, and even though it circulated a ton for us, it's time for it to go. The Tender Texan has moved past tender, and is now overcooked and chewy.

So yes, while a little piece of me died inside - I weeded it.

Because that's how all good librarians should roll.

Oh, and in case anyone at Berkley is reading this? Maybe it's time to reprint some older Jodi Thomas. Just sayin'.

Assuming I'm doing my math right (always doubtful) this book circulated 32.6865 times every year, for the past 6 years. That sounds awfully high though. Especially when considering a 3-week check-out period. I wonder if this was an instance where our circulation stats actually carried over from our previous automation system? Either way, I'd say we got our money's worth out of the $4.95 this title originally cost. Holy crap!

And since I'm sure someone will bring it up in the comments section, yes - an ebook version would be nice. However I don't see libraries throwing print out on it's ear anytime soon. So yeah, print would be good.

31 comments:

Chris said...

Do you follow the Awful Library Books blog?

JamiSings said...

This must be a hugely popular book. There's one on Amazon for $101.29! Though to be fair most are selling it for less then $5.

shayera said...

There are administrators at Central Library who won't speak to me. They're still mad that I suggested that we weed Central Library's collection. You'd think I'd stepped on their kitten!
I'm a big fan of weeding. It hurts, but the results are definitely worth it.

PeggyP said...

Oooh Wendy, that hurts! I love old crappy books that are falling apart! OK, it's a tough job but somebody has to do it - would you come to my house? I'm a softie and can't do it even though I know most of these books have got to go!

By the way, I've got all of Katherine Sutcliffe's books and I'll never part with them - even her bad ones are good!

I've got the most falling apart copy of Silver Devil by Teresa Denys...the hero is such a pyscho, so unusual for a historical romance.

Tracy said...

I wondered who had that damned copy! lol I couldn't believe when I was looking for it and not 1 library in LA county had it!

It sounds like you did a humanitarian deed today, my friend.

Wendy said...

Chris: Yes I do - and it's full of awesome! For everybody's enjoyment:

http://awfullibrarybooks.wordpress.com/

Shayera: We don't really have a central library - just a small "closed stacks" collection here at our administration building. One of my projects for this next year is get some weeding done in there. Lots o' dead wood, and some scary paperbacks that really need to go.

Jami: I thought it was part of a series, but according to the author's web site - it's not. So this one can probably be chalked up to people wanting to read her backlist.

Wendy said...

Peggy: I'm fairly ruthless - especially with library books. It reflects badly on us if we keep books in poor condition on the shelf. We're essentially telling library users, "This is what you deserve. This crappy, moldy, nasty looking book. Lucky you."

Personal books, I'm a bit more lenient. Although I've been known to scour used bookstores for better looking copies to replace not-so-great copies I may have in my collection. I will not disclose how many times I've done that :-)

Tracy: 18 years old, and out of print. Not surprising that L.A. didn't have it. Heck, I'm surprised WE had it. But alas, no more. It served valiantly, but it was time to let go.....

A Library Girl said...

I wonder who's worse about weeding, public or academic librarians? (I've only got experience in those two types of libraries, although I'm sure librarians at other types of libraries have their own issues.) I'm currently working in an academic library, and we are this close to doing regular weeding. Our last large weeding project was 6 years ago. I've been trying to explain that we don't have to do a large project - 15 minutes a week of getting rid of the really nasty, out-of-date stuff would do wonders for our shelves.

I agree - Awful Library Books is great. One of the librarians who supports me on the whole "we must weed" thing jokes that we should submit some of our "gems", although Awful Library Books focuses more on awful public library books. Still, we've got some stinkers. Personally, I think we could hold a contest - the winner would be the person to find the most awful book in the entire library. It won't happen, since it doesn't send the best message about our library, but it still makes me laugh to imagine it.

Karen J. said...

I am a K-12 librarian in a small school district. When I started 4 years ago, I inherited two school libraries that had only had two other librarians in the previous 50+ years (and they were mother and daughter). Needless to say, I have embarked on some serious weeding in the past few years! I found books that said cocaine was not addictive, others that said someday man will go to the moon, and (my personal favorite) a lovely fiction title called "The Green Man From Space" featuring cover art of the backview of a green man wearing what looks to be a thong (and nothing else)! I'd post a picture to Awful Library Books but I gave it to one of the retiring staff members last year as a retirement gift. She was most appreciative (it was a rather muscular green man...).

Nikki said...

I know weeding is necessary, but I hate doing it. My classroom has 4 bookcases full of books (probably 3000-3500 books)and some of them are in high demand. But when they are beyond repair, I give them to the kids, which makes the kids feel so honored, especially when the book is one of their favorites.
But I hate doing it and it's mostly because I have bought three-fourths of the books with my own money.

JamiSings said...

See, I love weeding. Books that are falling apart or out of date. Even though I'm a clerk I'm always keeping my eyes peeled for books that could be weeded. With one of the librarians I often post joking notes on them. We had a super ratty paperback of The Vampire Lestat recently I gave to him with the note "It's time to stake this vampire."


In fact, they're lucky I don't do the weeding, half the fairy tales alone would be gone. LOL (Well, we have way too many and no one likes to shelf read them because the dewey decimal numbers are so dang long.)

Wendy said...

Library Girl: I suspect it's be a photo-finish in that particular horse race. Academic librarians probably never want to get rid of anything because of Ye Olde "research" excuse. Heh.

The great fear of public librarians is that once we weed it, someone will come in and ask for it. No matter how moldy the book may be, or how grossly out of date the information is. They still have that "fear." Sigh.

Wendy said...

Karen: I can only imagine! It's doubly hard when you inherit a neglected collection. Similar to my first job when I moved out west. I took over as manager at a library where previous managers weren't big on weeding. I weeded out about half of what needed to go, and them my successor mopped up the rest :) It took two of us! LOL

Nikki: My sister is a teacher, and I'm forever picking up freebie YA books whenever I go to conferences for her. When I went to BEA a couple years back, she hit the jack pot! I'll have to ask her what she does with her falling apart books. You know, she's never told me.....

Jami: I truly believe clerks are the first line of defense. Y'all see every book that leaves and enters the building. Of course, it's extra work for you all to flip through and eye-ball a book's condition. And Lord knows, the clerks tend to be the busiest people at the library. When I worked at a small library, with minimal staff, I spent 75% of my time helping out at circulation.

Samanthadelayed said...

I put a request in for the only copy of Lord of Scoundrels in our library system, and when I finally got it looked like someone had done a tune up on their car and then picked up the book and started reading without stopping to wash their hands. I read it anyway, but every time I picked it up I cringed a little. I am used to dirty books, you should see some of the stuff people bring us here at the used bookstore, but that copy of LOS was crazy. That is why libraries have to weed...

Rosie said...

Imagine if that book could talk about the people who have read it and the places it's been the last 18 years. Wow! That book is one year younger than Shmoo. Kind of put in perspective for me.

JamiSings said...

Well, I spent 8 years shelving books too as a page so I can often just touch a book and "sense" something wrong. Then if I look at the way the pages line up or something I can often see where the spine is broken, pages coming out, etc, without opening it.

Course unlike you I don't want to spend the rest of my life in the library. But if I can get some cruddy books out while I'm there....

I guess our adult librarian feels some of what you do. He sometimes comes around to ask me what checks out the most.

Kristie (J) said...

Nooooooo - say it ain't so!! I LOVE The Tender Texan - it's my favourite Jodi Thomas book

Tara Marie said...

I smiled when I read this post. Every year I help the school librarian "weed" our library. It's ugly but needs doing. We try selling them first to students and then donate them to our local library for their book sales.

Our criteria... if the last reader of the book has graduated (we go K-8) then it's time to go.

The sad fact is we have very limited space and there's always a need for more shelf space.

Mandy said...

Being a book collector / reader I occasionally have to weed out my shelves....painful!

Thinking about it, it is almost time to weed again. There is a Friends of the Library sale coming up. The last box of books I bought there still isn't on the shelves.

azteclady said...

Can people bid on the Friends of the Library inventory? I mean... out of print, only copy in the state, that sort of thing...



(My mother was a librarian for over three decades, so I get the weeding thing. It still hurts when I have to do it at home--hence the overcrowded bookcases :grin:)

Wendy said...

Samantha: Now see, there's no excuse for that. Especially since LOS has been reprinted. Let me check...yep, still available. At the bargain price of $6.99 even.

Rosie: OMG - that's one way of looking at it. We've sent this book out on ILL a lot. Makes you wonder where it's been, and how many states it's traveled to.....

Jami: Ha! You're like the book whisperer!

Kristie: I know, it killed me to do it - especially since it checked out so much. But seriously, the book looked gross. I had to take it out behind the barn and shoot it :)

TM: I'm always trying to convince librarians that there are no sacred cows. Oh sure, WE all think there are - but really? There aren't. Especially when we're talking condition. If it's nasty, it's nasty. It needs to go.

Mandy: I'm probably past due to do another purge of my personal collection. Not looking forward to it either, since I'm at the point where I'll have to make some hard choices.

AL: Well, some Friends groups have gotten really savvy and started using eBay. That said? This book is so far gone, it's really not fit to sell. I mean, it's just plain awful looking. It's next stop is likely the nearest recycling bin....

Barbara said...

Ugh, I can't imagine what it's like to have to get rid of books. Especially, since the library is on a budget. I hate get rid of my own books, but sometimes it just has to be done.

nath said...

I was going to ask for it LOL, since Kristie had said a lot of good things about this book... but brown dirt? Ewww.

All jobs have tasks we don't like to do...

JamiSings said...

Book Whisper - HA! LOL Would make for a boring reality show, sadly.

Seriously though, it's usually pretty obvious. You pick up a book and feel something wrong about it - a looseness it shouldn't have. Then take a look first from the top and you can usually see where it's seperating or pages are slipping without opening it. It's kind of like how you can pick up a box you know should have something in it and feel that it's empty.

Sam said...

I may be joining the discussion too late. I have no problem weeding books (I even enjoy it) especially when I find stuff like pregnancy books from the 80s like I did yesterday. I don't know what guidelines have to be followed where you are, but here we are supposed to weed out at least 5% of our collection every year. Some people thinks it's horrible, but I tell them that our job is to provide current reliable information- we are not an archive.

Wendy said...

Sam: We post a "weeding" schedule as a guide, with some of our branches using it - and other branches ignoring it. I can only imagine the kind of revolt we'd have on our hands if we assigned them a mandatory percentage. Personally, I love the idea though!

SonomaLass said...

Thanks for the Awful Library Books link! That blog is full of awesome.

From the other side, as a consumer, I appreciate that our library system weeds out books. They seem to replace the ones that have decent circulation numbers, too. But if they didn't weed, I would get fewer gems at the Friends sales, and that would be sad!

Book Dragon said...

With an online name like bookdragon and a signature line "because books are a treasure worth protecting" you'd like I would be against weeding.

You'd be wrong.

If we give library patrons "ugly" books it is more likely that they will feel that they don't need to be careful with it. Then who's to say they'll be careful with a brand-new copy?

sigh, I'm overrun at home and it's time to donate to my FotL or local used bookstore. Luckily, most are in fair to great condition.

As for kids.... they may have drawn in them once but it was the last time they did it. They hated to disappoint me and loved their books so when they drew in them - ALL their books were taken away for a while.

Keira Soleore said...

First of: a lament. Berkley do, do, for heaven's sake, do reprint Jodi Thomas's older titles!! Since I started reading westerns not too long ago, I've bought every single one that readily available. People are reselling even greatly used titles that they should be a little shameful about making money on, but the demand is so great.

We donate a lot of money every year to our public library system specifically for the care and update of books, because weeding hurts the readers and the librarian.

Finally: a rant. While I know libraries have limited shelf space, I hate contemplating books that get weeded out by circulation numbers.

Wendy said...

Keira: Weeding based on circulation is a whole separate post on it's own. I do think it needs to be done, but IMHO it should never be the first line of defense. It's imperative to weed out the icky copies first and foremost. And if it's really a barn-burner, try to find a replacement copy that isn't nearly as disgusting.

Librarians and libraries find themselves living and dying by circulation numbers - especially these days when our very existence is on the chopping block. It's the easiest way for us to show politicians, the community, whomever that we're still relevant.

Which is a whole other rant all on it's own. I need to stop myself now before I get a full head of steam.....

Keira Soleore said...

I didn't mean to get you on a pressure cooker there. :) Part of me knows weeding is a complex process with many reasons, and it has to be done: Physical space has its limits. But I still hate the concept of all those books that will never be read because they're undiscoverable. Lost knowledge and all that.