This is a guest post from Michelle Anne Schingler. Michelle Anne has graduate degrees from the University of Georgia and Harvard Divinity School, whereat she studied religion and theology and consumed English courses like they were candy. These days, she works in a public library, writes freelance book reviews, teaches Hebrew school, and experiments with how many books she can fit into her bed before she herself has no room. (Views expressed in relation to her library work are her own, and not those of her library system.) Follow her on Twitter @mschingler.
I think it happens to every first time librarian: you encounter the branch’s recycling bin. There are BOOKS in it. You balk. You try to rescue a few. Doing so requires looking past tattered covers, mildew dots and missing pages, but what do you care? They’re BOOKS. One does not just throw books away.
It’s a losing battle, though. Circulating books can only withstand a bevy of readers for so long. They get tossed into backseats, have food dribbled on them, return inexplicably sticky or sun-worn, or come home reeking of smoke. Even if they escape these icky fates, they’re often read into rattiness. At a certain point, you get over the horror of consigning an item that’s falling apart to oblivion.
And then there are the items that must be disappeared because they’ve never been loved. Weeding underused books takes next-level getting used to. There are general outlines to lean on: you look for items that haven’t circulated in years, on topics that your community seems generally uninterested in, and you withdraw them to make room on your shelves for new books, or to give volumes which do move some room to breathe.
Still, on my first run through the fiction collection, I hedged and fell down on the job. Through to Catherine Coulter, our shelvers still face a Herculian struggle. They shift and squeeze items together just to return books to their given places, all because I couldn’t bear to part with reads that no one, including me, is actually checking out.
But you get over that, too. You start to relish the sound of an RFID tag being ripped from book bindings, even. You cross out barcodes with flair and press the explanatory discard stamp onto the title page with vicious glee. There are days now when I can say that I “got” to weed an item, not that I had to.
My first happy discard was a worn title by an author I loathe. His books check out daily, and I’ve been party to a soliloquy or two on the merits of his work. (I remain skeptical.) The title I was able to toss binward didn’t leave us for reasons that I love—it was pored over until it couldn’t be read any longer. But one less of those to shelve, at least until the title was replaced. I crossed through our barcode with verve.
But it can also be a relief to remove a title that has lost its relevance. There was the guide on how to be a single career woman, circa an era in which you still needed a dude’s permission to get a credit card. The title on weathering the 2012 apocalypse. Bill Cosby, lecturing younger generations on how they ought to behave (with one chapter conspicuously missing).
There are also titles that I’m glad no one has read for wholly selfish reasons. I was able to weed an Ann Coulter title for underuse not long ago. As a once-acolyte of hers (mea culpa), that was a gleeful moment for me. I’m not sorry to see that she never found an audience in our library. Or that no one has bothered to consult James Dobson on teenage sexuality in years.
Of course, weeding is still a fraught undertaking, especially when patrons take notice. As our sale carts fill out, we’re bound to field complaints. People don’t always understand why we don’t save every volume into perpetuity. There’s just not room. Or a need.
A few years in, weeding has become one of my favorite parts of the job. We’re not gatekeepers, precisely, but we are responsible for maintaining a diverse collection that’s relevant to our community. A shelf with a little room on it is not a tragedy; it’s an opportunity. Books will come to fill it. Hopefully they’ll find their way to readers that love them, and the cycle will continue.
Book Riot Live is coming! Join us for a two-day event full of books, authors, and an all around good time. It’s the convention for book lovers that we’ve always wanted to attend. So we are doing it ourselves.