In every library I’ve ever worked, and in numerous others throughout the country, rumors have circulated at some point that the library is “throwing books away.” A comment posted on my last expressed concerned that “one of the first things the library did after Measure A passed was discard all books that hadn't been checked out in 2 years, regardless of quality…with no input from the public.”
As a check of the MARINet catalog or a browse of the Library shelves will reassure you, the Library has not discarded all books older than 2 years. But are we “throwing books away?”
What the Library does is review its materials on a regular basis. Is the information accurate? Is it up to date? Has anyone read this book in the past 5 years? This analysis allows library staff to make sure that legal or medical information is accurate, and that travel guides have the latest information. If a book is no longer accurate, we look for a newer book to purchase on that same subject.
As much as library users love books, they can be hard on them. Books are only made of paper: a coffee spill, a trip to the beach, or simply scores of hands can render a book grubby and unappealing. Nobody wants to check out a DVD or CD that has too many skips, and we don’t want the reputation of having a collection of tattered books and DVDs that don’t play. For popular titles, we buy replacement copies.
Then there are books that are no longer popular, for whatever reason. We frequently buy multiple copies of titles that are in demand by our patrons. When the demand drops off we will have more copies than we need to meet ongoing demand, and some of those copies will be considered for removal from the collection.
Because any library has a limited amount of storage space, there is a finite number of books and other materials that a library can have. In order to continue meeting the needs of our community, we continue to provide the newest best-sellers, medical, legal and how-to books. And to make room for the new items on our shelves, we need to remove older ones. Libraries are not warehouses for books; they are vital, living parts of their communities and must adapt to changing needs.
Some people may argue that a library shouldn’t focus exclusively on “popular” materials. As part of our Strategic Planning process we asked a number of groups what “library” means to them. Our library users want books (including e-books, books on CD and DVDs) that are pertinent to their lives. Popular in this case does not only mean “best sellers” but embraces the entire range of materials, including fiction for all ages, do-it-yourself guides, documentaries, philosophy and poetry that our educated readers demand. Our collection development policy specifically states that we “nurture young readers and lifelong learning” and one way we do that is by making sure that we have copies of the classics available.
Rather than trying to own everything, we rely on our consortium of MARINet libraries (which now includes Domincan University), and share materials with all Marin county patrons. Just recently we joined the LINK+ consortium, which gives our cardholderss access to more than 10 million volumes from California and Nevada.
So what do we do with all those old, outdated, unloved, and damaged items? Many of them go to our local book sale, and many more are sold at a non-profit in Novato that supports Marin County Free Library with its sale of used items.
I became a librarian because I love books, and because I love helping connect other book-lovers with materials they need and enjoy. To continue as vibrant and relevant centers of community learning, our libraries must be flexible, changing and growing to meet the demands of all our users.