I may need to go smoke a cigarette now

I just weeded out a couple hundred volumes from the collection. And oh, my, did it feel good.

I went to a day-long workshop last week about redesigning library space, and how to best use what you have. The speaker actually spent a good part of the time talking about weeding. She said the huge problem with libraries is that we don't have enough space. And yet most of us actually waste good chunks of our very expensive space on books that aren't getting checked out--space that we could be converting to "people space" for studying, relaxing, etc.

She said we need to remember that we are public libraries. We're not museums or historical repositories or warehouses. Our priority isn't to preserve what might possibly be the last remaining copy of such-and-such. (Note: it isn't the last copy. And even if it is? Still not our job.) Our priority should be keeping a current, relevant, accurate, shiny collection of materials that will actually get checked out, thereby giving us a return on our investment. And people don't want to browse through shelves that are crammed to overflowing with dusty, outdated, dingy stuff. People go for the shiny. They are like magpies in that way.

So. I thought that was pretty cool. And since my new boss is starting on Monday I figured I'd better work fast just in case she turns out to be a hoarder.

First tackled the adult paperback section and decided that it will never be allowed to expand beyond the shelves that are specifically meant for it. If we take in something new, we ditch something old. This time around I ditched about 100 ratty books from authors that no one reads anymore.

In the YA section I had the Best. Time. Ever. Started with the Science Fiction/Fantasy section and removed all those freaky hard-cover books from the 1970s with the wretched, wretched covers. Because here's the thing--if the books are actually decent, they'll still be in print today, with new, better, shiny, appealing covers. (Example: the Dark is Rising series, which no one was checking out. But now that I've reordered cool-looking copies I can't keep it on the shelf.)

Sorry the pictures are so blurry, but you get the idea. That last one is my favorite, I think. Does anyone here know ANY 16-yr-olds who are going to pick these up? No. No you don't. Young adults have gotten used to sexy covers and there's no going back.

Then had fun in the Romance, Mystery, and Horror section chucking all the Christopher Pike and Lois Duncan and Sabrina the Teenage Witch series and whatnot.

And THEN I went over to the adult nonfiction and just went crazy wild. I got rid of humor volumes by people no one knows anymore, and the stuff about "The World We Live In" featuring the Soviet Union. (That was a big point the speaker at the workshop made: If it's outdated information, it's WRONG information.) And the twelve books about Watergate and Bill Clinton's Sins. And the Cliffs Notes. And 3 of the 6 copies of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. And pretty much anything that was dingy, old, heavy, useless, or could be found at the Utah State University library by someone who actually needs to do scholarly research.

Cannot even TELL you how much hotter these shelves are now that they've had a taste of my sweet lovin'. There's actually room in them now and what's there looks like stuff that's worth browsing. Plus it's kind of fun to get into this new mindset and to remind myself that some of these books just have a limited shelf life. And it's okay. They fill their purpose and then we retire them to make room for the books about the Bush administration and righteous sexy vampires and things that people actually care to read about in 2008.


j said... [reply]

Thanks for the Dark is Rising shout out. If the (I assume it was, because I couldn't bear to even go see it, or even Redbox it based on the trailer) terrible film adaptation was good for nothing else, maybe it will get a few more kids to check out some books that I loved growing up.

Also, what happens to books that get weeded? Is that where the library book sales come from?

Jenny said... [reply]

I am so proud of you!ew

Nemesis said... [reply]

J, I heard that the movie was really, really bad. And our copies of the books were so horrible that no one would have EVER assumed there could be a good book in there! And yes, the weeded books go to the library book sales. We try to find them good homes, and if no one is interested at ALL then they get recycled.

Thanks, Jen.

Another book that got the axe yesterday? What's going to happen in Harry Potter 5!

Janssen said... [reply]

This post totally spoke to my wanna-be public librarian soul. Please let me get a job when I graduate.

Ann-Marie said... [reply]

I am weeding the general fiction collection right now and I have no problem getting rid of the old, ugly, hasn't circulated in years and years kinds of books. I like seeing the shiny not the dusty!

cooldad said... [reply]

I just want to know if you, in your drive to achieve a new look, also chucked the the standard library filing system for the new color coded retro look.

Mad Hadder said... [reply]

I too have had my way with books that stunk to high heavens in libraries. I loved pulling out the old etiquette books from the 50's. My problem was that I'd throw them out but they'd make their way back (like CATS!) somehow even with DISCARD scrawled across their pruney face!! That's when I took to the midnight-dumpster-in- questionable-parts-of-the-city-wearing-stocking cap and goggles--cement overshoes-technique. Oh, and the best part of weeding was tucking away a few gems for myself that only I would appreciate. Don't tell me you're NOT guilty of that!!!!

Anonymous said... [reply]

Normally I would be right behind you saying, "Purge! Purge!" However, I really enjoy finding outdated fiction--forgotten gems so to speak. I came across this great set of books written in the 1970's at my local library. I checked out all the books she/he had written (a male author writing under a female name). The next time I went to look for them a few months later (I am a perpetual re-reader)....all gone. Mysteriously disappeared. Turns out no one but me was checking them out so the library purged them. The books are actually hard to find because they are out of print. Sure, I can buy them from online used bookstores, but they can get pretty expensive. I really wished they had given me warning or something. I totally would have taken them off their hands.

Nemesis said... [reply]

Janssen, I will cross my fingers for you!

Ann-Marie, I know! Short of making out in the stacks, I'm betting this is the most fun it's possible to have in them.

Cooldad, I would love to, but that might make my job hard. Since I already murder people who come in and say things like, "I'm looking for this one book. I don't remember the name or title or what it's about, but I remember it was red." But the scary thing is sometimes I actually know what book they're talking about. I kill them anyway, though.

Mad Hadder, I plead the 5th, there.

Lady Susan, I am sorry that happened. In a perfect world those librarians would have called you and asked if you wanted them. Or you would have seen them at the semi-annual booksale and rejoiced.

Eva said... [reply]

Umm... I actually like Christopher Pike's stuff when I was a teen. Then again, the only reason I picked it up in the first place was because the books had neon pink spines, and who can resist THAT?

abby said... [reply]

I remember the first time I ever threw a book away from our collection. I felt so guilty, but once you start you can't stop. I hate shelving and that added to my throwing away joy. Now I don't even deal with collections and my library doesn't have books that are as fun as yours.

BEFore said... [reply]

>Thanks for the Dark is Rising shout out. If the (I assume it was, because I couldn't bear to even go see it, or even Redbox it based on the trailer) terrible film adaptation was good for nothing else, maybe it will get a few more kids to check out some books that I loved growing up.

Books great. Movie... "meh". It completely changed a lot of the best things about the books, so the book fans didn't like it. And as far as I could tell if you weren't a book reader, you would have had no clue what was going on -- so non-readers wouldn't enjoy it either.

I need to read those again and get myself a copy of the Black Cauldron books and read those too.

Shawn Econo said... [reply]

People still read books about the Bush administration? That's so, like, 2003.


Ben doing some weeding myself, in preparation for a new (and much smaller) bookmobile. I like it very much. But I still can't convince myself to throw away the Henry Reed books, no matter how sad and pathetic they've become over the last five decades.

Mary said... [reply]

I discovered H M Hoover 10 or 12 years ago. I listened to "The Dawn Palace" on tape and loved it. Then I started looking for more of her books and went through the youth SF. I started looking for her books at Half Price Bookstores here in Dallas but have only found a few. I even found one that I hadn't read before at the public library in Wolfeboro NH - "The Lion's Cub". It is the story of a Caucasus chieftain's son who stayed as a hostage in the court of Nicholas I and is based on a historical incident. I found it fascinating. I looked for it again in Wolfeboro a few years later and it was gone - purged. But then when I checked it out before, I was the first in several years. So sad.

Science Teacher Mommy said... [reply]

Smoke a cigarette . . . hee. hee.

I think "vampires" and "Bush Administration" fit perfectly in the same sentence.

EmAndTrev said... [reply]

I think, perhaps, that my favorite sentence in the whole post was the very last one. But, I also enjoyed the pictures of the book covers and talk of Christopher Pike novels. I'll admit it--I was a fan back in the seventh grade.

Good for you and your mad organization/cleaning house skills!

Nemesis said... [reply]

I totally read the Christopher Pike books too. So it was a fun little trip down memory lane. But once they're out of fashion, it's just over. Like all those books about girls with leukemia. Or girls who fall in love with BOYS with leukemia.

The Divine Miss A said... [reply]

You've inspired me to weed out my classroom library. I've been letting so many mediocre books just sit there taking up valuable space.

Too bad I really don't have a budget to replace them with better books, but I'm moving to a new room next year so I'll need the space anyway.

JustRandi said... [reply]

I LOVE that theory. I think our library is stuck in the 1970's. ick.

Sherry said... [reply]

Sorry to be late on commenting, but I had a thought, then I remembered your post, and so here I am.

First, your cigarette comment reminded me of a nephew, who, in a recent temper tantrum screamed to his mother, "I'm so mad, Mom. I'm going to go drink alcohol!" He's four.

For years my grandfather was preparing for his death by giving away all his things. Really, for like 10 years he was giving stuff away, and he only knew about his cancer for 9 months, so it was rather amusing to hear this perfectly healthy old man say, "Do you want this? Because I'm just going to give it away, and it may as well go to somebody who I know." Anyway, there came a time when he decided to do a book purge, and really, he didn't own that many books. And he said that what we didn't want he would take to a local library.

Now I'm thinking, "Hmmm... If I didn't want those old books, and my siblings and cousins didn't want those old books, then the library probably didn't want those old books either." What should he have done with them instead? It seems like such a waste to just recycle them or not store them somewhere.

Nemesis said... [reply]

Sherry, I don't have all the answers of course, but he might have considered a used book store--if only because people who collect older or subject-specific books would be going there and looking around.

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