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In my opinion, actually, we weed too little, and a library without a weeding plan will eventually be in danger of becoming a trash heap of its own. I recently started working in a small goverment-funded research library, an I spent a good part of my first two months weeding the collection. The material was old, outdated, in bad physical shape and (mostly) uncataloged, but some of the employees here were still upset that I - a *Librarian*, of all people - had the audacity to actually thow books away.
It's trickier with fiction in public libraries, I suppose, but the same basic rules apply: "use it of loose it." Preservation for posterity might come into the equation at some point, but as I said, I have the feeling that this is a rather minor issue for most libraries.
I also find that usually when large scale weeding is required, it is usually because ongoing weeding has not been taking place.
Finally, I'm curious about the specific Gissing novel: which title, what was the condition, are there any indications of real value (e.g., was Abe Books consulted for one), and how common is the title in other libraries or repositories? I've lately been consulting the Internet Archive to see if there is a digitized copy available. Our perception of the value of an item can often be clouded by our bibliophile tendencies.
I would think if the item is rare and valuable it would be retained appropriately. During our last major weeding I was able to identify an 1881 first edition work by Nietzsche. It's in our vault at present.
I don't know the particulars of the cases mentioned, so I can't really comment on them any further, but we had a case just like this in Sweden not long ago: a public library where no systematic weeding had been done since the 80's was in dire need of storage space and decided it was time to actually do something about it. The exact number of books removed escapes me, but it was a lot. A journalist "uncovered" the story, and a predictable public outrage ensued.
Are we throwing away too much? Perhaps, but I can only repeat what I said before: public libraries are not simple repositories for old books, that they do not keep their collections because old things are neat. They keep a current, up--to-date collection with books that are meant to be used. If they are not, and if there is no money to sustain an ever-growing collection, things simply will have to go. It was one of the first things we learned about collection management in my LIS-program.
We on LibraryThing are booklovers, so to us, as to most people, tossing books is a bad, bad thing. I understand this - I myself cringe everytime i get rid of as much as a water-damaged paperback from my personal collection - but weeding, or tossing books, or whatever you want to call it, is necessary, and makes for a better library in the long run. The reason that a lot of tossing is occuring now is probably (I'm guessing here, mind you) that public libraries are facing budget cuts, moving to smaller locales, etc, and are looking into every cost-cutting scheme they can of whichtossing old stuff is one.
I work in a school library, and have just weeded out 400+ fictionbooks. they had mostly been kept in spinners and were in awful condition, and most had not been taken out for 10 years.
This is not a 'nice book no room' dilemma, but it is still hard to make people see that it's something that has to be done. Especially in schools, authors go in fashions, and however superficial that may sound, the library has to keep track with what people are reading. You can't *make* them read Duncton Wood once the trend has moved on.
One of the teachers was quite upset about this - she called me (in jest, I think!) 'a book burning Nazi!'
Perhaps the difference between this and the situation referred to by the OP, is that I am buying lots of lovely new books, and am only weeding to provide room.
Construction Junction in Point Breeze near the East End Coop is a recycling center with many bins and one that is labeled specifically for hardback books. I make runs down there all the time. I have boxes labeled Half-price books, and boxes labeled recycle and every month or so, I make the trip.
We have a target of 4000 books withdrawn by June. I sure hope the public don't find out. I was given a list to weed youth fiction from and everything I pulled off was rubbish, out of date, grubby looking, stuff I read as a teen I just know it wouldn't hold the interest of today's teens.
It's a shame possible valuable old books have to go to rubbish though like the OP says. Withdrawn I can understand but they should be stored somewhere even if only with book collectors. There's lots of people out there who love old books simply because they're old and could be rare and would be happy to stick them on their bookshelf. I wouldn't like to see them destroyed.
When weeding is done properly, books with value are handled appropriately. Part of our weeding process is to try and verify that we are not throwing out a valuable book. We're big enough that "valuable" may not have the same definition in your neck of the woods.
>7 Jennifertapir: ". . . this is just a single example, a nice late 19th century edition of one of Gissing's novels. "
I checked on Abebooks for all works by George Gissing published before 1900 and found 205 items with a price range from (US dollars) $10 to $4000. The median value is about $85. So, it depends on the specific item as to whether discarding it is a bad decision. And it's actually not even "value" as much as "bookseller asking price." If, indeed, a $4000 item is being discarded, that is blatant mismanagement. Not so much for the $10 versions.
Anything else goes in the Friends of the Library book sale, where we sell hard cover books for $1 and paperbacks for $.50. If the books are still not going after that, there is a company that will come in and buy the books by the pound or the crate or something like that at a much-reduced rate.
(by the way, however many of those penny books you buy from Amazon, they charge you 3.95 shipping for EACH book.)
I'm not someone who is inclined to weed indiscriminately. I have to be really convinced to remove the last copy from our system. But do we really need to keep this ragged copy when we have 2 others for a title that has circed a handful of times in the past 5 years - never more than one copy out at a time? And there are some subjects where the old books need to go - like medical information!
Yet someone researching the history of the treatment for a certain disease might want to get their hands on some old medical books.
The ones I save sometimes make it to my place with a nominal donation to the library. These are interesting, hard-to-find books that are generally worth 50+ dollars. I have an incredible eye for this stuff.
We have a book sale that rakes in huge dollars from the literal tons of books that come in through front door donations. I could treble the amount they raise, but they do incredibly well, the booksale, guided by the friends. The wolves come in with their scanners and loot the place at 5am, the "early bird special" for an additional 15 bucks. By the end of the third day it is all trash books (yes, they do exist) that might head off to Better World Books if they are lucky, or a dumpster.
If you don't have the resources to do a booksale, call a few booksellers and let them know the books will be going in the trash.
I did do an assessment for an inner city school library and it was packed with childrens books from the 1930's on up to the 1970's. The new librarian was of the dumpster approach and it took every inch of restraint not to ask when the weeding was going to happen, or if I could grab a box or two after I'd finish the paperwork.
Except often what we do is remove books from the shelves and delete and stamp withdrawn and put a mark through the bar code and then box them up and send them to another branch and they send theirs to us so patrons don't see books on the book sale stand they saw last week. They get pretty upset when they think good books are being sold off.
Our pulping is TOTAL secret squirrel. We don't even call it weeding. It's "deselection"
During a recent "purge" (due to very tight shelves) the adult services librarian went down the aisles with a list of those fiction books that hadn't circulated in the past 5 years. Those books were pulled & re-evaluated for retention. This is at a small town, but reasonably well-funded library.
Currently, the non-fiction books are being evaluated, but circulation isn't the only criteria. Some books need to be kept for research & reference. It isn't an easy process.... as we all know.
We recently did a re-organization of the interior space at the library, moving non-fiction into our reading and reference room to make it possible to have a youth room. We did some serious weeding and you should have heard the moans and complaints!