At a recent program I gave someone asked the question: “Joyce, you keep the classics in your collection, don’t you?”
I’ve been a librarian for 31 years and for all of that time I’ve kept a secret. Well, maybe not a huge secret but something I don’t broadcast willingly.
We don’t keep every book that we purchase. In fact, once a year we go through the collection and take a look at books that haven’t checked out for three years.
People get very attached to books. I understand this attachment. Really I do. But books, after all, are only words printed on paper which are then bound together. Nothing sacred about that process.
Just like fashion, authors and subjects go in and out of style. And sometimes come back in again.
Picture what the Library would look like if we never withdrew a book from our collection.
There wouldn’t be room for all the books that people ask for. We would have outgrown this building years ago. Finding a book you want to read would be difficult.
Weeding, as much as I hate to talk about it, is a process I look forward to every year. Sometimes I look at a book and wonder why no one has checked it out. Other times it’s completely obvious. Why check out a 10-year-old book on gardening when much newer ones sit on the shelf right next to it?
Weeding also gives us the chance to keep the collection current. Science and medical books are particularly suspect to becoming out of date quickly. The rule of thumb on most science books is that anything five years or older isn’t current and contains outdated information which can be harmful. A book on breast cancer treatment could be damaging if it doesn’t contain the most current information.
What it really comes down to is that a book that doesn’t check out takes up shelf space from a book that might. I’d rather have a library filled with books that come and go than a library that is nothing but a repository.
We aren’t, after all, the Library of Congress.
So on that day, I took a big breath and said, “Well, first of all, who decides what a classic is? And then, no, we don’t. We keep some books for as long as we can but if it doesn’t check out for six or eight or even ten years, then the public is telling me something. Classic or not, it’s just taking up shelf space.”
There. I’ve said it. I feel better.