Tossing books

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Tossing books

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Nov 8, 2010, 3:42 pm

I have spent the last few months (probably really) of my working life in a large reference library 'stock editing'. Actually that means tossing away books while my employers reduce services. The national book collection is reducing, all over the UK librarians are doing the same as I am. Now, much of the stuff is ancient grot - but not all of it is. Does anyone care? Maybe not - but there is a leakage of material out of libraries into the local rubbish tip, or some holding pen that raises many issues. i privately believe that libraries are dying - and possibly this is one of the reasons. Opinions please!

Nov 8, 2010, 5:18 pm

I felt similarly when I first became a librarian. But then I realized that weeding your collection is very important. Maybe you're in a different type of library, but I work in a public library, where it's vital to trim down your collection, to make room for more books! Also, with many subjects, you want to make sure the information you're housing is still current. Do we need to keep 10 year old medical books with information about medication? Absolutely not. It's actually a disservice to our patrons to keep something like that around. Again, I don't know what type of library you're in. As I'm weeding, if I find something that I don't think we should get rid of, I'll mend it, or make sure it gets replaced by something comparable if that particular title is out of print. Weeding is necessary!

Nov 9, 2010, 10:01 am

2 >> Agree. Here in Sweden this seems to be one of the biggest misconceptions about libraries - that they are these permanent and static repositories of knowlege where very scrap of paper is sacred and preserved through eternity. There are libraries like those, and that's a good thing, but for most other libraries weeding is vital if they are to be able to function.

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 The material was old, outdated, in bad physical shape and (mostly) uncataloged, but some of the employees here were still upset that I - a *Librarian*, of all people - had the audacity to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.

Nov 9, 2010, 5:39 pm

True - but what I am doing is not housekeeping - it is removing masses of material that probably has value (and I am not talking about old medical books or stuff like that) such as 19th century biographies and histories. Not frontline stock - but definately not dross. Why am I doing it? My employers cannot afford storage space - and it is a very major public library service and I am working within the contraints of policy.

Nov 9, 2010, 6:13 pm

Actually throwing into the trash? I agree weeding is a good thing if you need more space on the shelves, but there are better alternatives - sell them at the annual library book sale or if that isn't possible Saint Vincent de Paul has a very eclectic book section. Most charities welcome book donations.

Nov 9, 2010, 8:12 pm

Well...we have our shelves full for the most part. We get in a couple of hundred new books a month. Simple math would tell you that we have to get rid of at least a couple of hundred old books per month to make it fit. If we don't, then the shelves will be overcrowded.

Nov 12, 2010, 5:26 pm

I am amazed how superficial these replies are - throwing out a few books here and there, a bit of weeding - but industrial scale dumping (and yes all overthe UK it is happening in public and academic libraries)! I guess I am talking about things like, and this is just a single example, a nice late 19th century edition of one of Gissing's novels.

Nov 13, 2010, 8:30 am

I like to point out that when issues like this arise that as soon as we have infinite resources we'll be able to retain, restore, and preserve everything. So long as infinite resources are not available, weeding, even on an industrial scale, is going to be necessary. Other types of collection maintenance, such as book sales, can cost more than the financial returns.

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.

Nov 15, 2010, 9:30 am

I belive fugitive is correct. When weeding is done on an "industrial scale", as you put it, it's usually because it has been neglected for a long time and the situation is about to go completely out of control.

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.

Nov 28, 2010, 11:26 am

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.


Nov 28, 2010, 4:10 pm

I think that it is important for us to recognise that we work in libraries; not archives. Libraries are about use for lending or reference. If elements of the collection are not being used then they should be replaced by more active material. Equally, it is my opinion that libraries are best served selling their weedings to booksellers who are best placed to determine the commercial value of the discards.

Mar 12, 2011, 11:22 pm

I am weeding the public library where i am the director and I am tossing thousands of books in the trash. No one wants these books. They are old or in bad shape or not popular and so on. I try to sell them, heck I can't even get rid of them for free! The local St Vincent de Paul doesn't want them. Goodwill doesn't want them. Local senior centers and homes don't want them. I don't really have the time to try and find them a home elsewhere. I've tried to find recycling centers but have had no luck. Any suggestions for recycling? My library is near Pittsburgh, PA.

Mar 13, 2011, 4:52 am

In Baltimore, Maryland is located the world's only totally-free book redistribution service; the Bookthing of Baltimore ( They will take any and all unwanted books and stock them in their facility for visitors to take away. They give away about four to five thousand books each week. The organization has been in existence for about thirteen years and is a registered non-profit self-funding public service. If sufficient books are available, they may be willing to pick up books from as far away as Pittsburgh, Pa. Recently I saw a walk-in size rental truck from Arizona taking away thousands of free books for a community in that state. We receive large numbers of books from outside Maryland delivered in vans and suv's by those who hate to discard good books. The facility is open only on weekends but books are accepted at all hours in our large collection receptacle. Please stop by if you are passing this way of a weekend.

Apr 20, 2011, 4:47 pm

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.

Edited: Apr 26, 2011, 6:38 am

We are currently weeding on an industrial scale. We recently deselected over 300 in ref on a Sunday afternoon (whilst closed) and moved the collection around so the patrons haven't realised we actually threw quite a bit out. It has to be done. Though I was a bit disappointed some items weren't given a chance in circulation before being thrown out. We were instructed nothing was to go into circulation but I think put it in circulation if it sits on the shelves and doesn't circulate for 18 months then withdraw it but hey I'm just a new library worker, not a librarian, what do I know?

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.

Apr 26, 2011, 8:31 am

>14 BeulahChurchLibrary: "It's a shame possible valuable old books have to go to rubbish though like the OP says."

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.

For example,

>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.

Apr 26, 2011, 8:43 am

I don't know if there's something similar in the UK, but in the US there are companies who will go through our weeding list and determine if there are books of value that they will buy before they ever go into the yearly book sale (my library uses Empire Books). When we weed, we put those books aside that they've requested.

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.

Apr 26, 2011, 2:32 pm

We invite local book dealers to check out the unwanted books (from donations) before offering them to the general audience. They also pay more. That way, we get most out of the entire process, without having to invest lots of time to track down the more valuable books (I'm talking about 10.000 books per year here). Sure, the 'regular' people will need more luck to find real bargains, but there are always some gems that the antiquarians didn't see.

Apr 26, 2011, 9:03 pm

One of the things I check when I'm weeding is the used value on Amazon. You may think it's a neat old book. But almost 99% of the books I check are being offered at the impressive (not!) price of $0.01. For the occasional book that is worth enough for us to try to sell ($7 or 8 minimum), I wonder whether we are getting enough return to justify the time I spend checking values.

Edited: Apr 27, 2011, 9:30 am

But you can't look at that 1 cent as a real price; they would lose money to sell it at that price. They must be making it up in the shipping & handling charges.

Apr 27, 2011, 12:06 pm

I think though that the underlying question is one of societal value. I work in a public library and a church library. At the public library our mission is to have new and popular books that circulate a lot. I am always lobbying (mostly unsuccessfully) for slightly modified values. To me a good book remains a good book regardless of how old or how poorly circulated. If it is a really great book, I think we should keep it. Naturally, I am an expert on really great books and they can trust me when I say so. I also lobby to keep less popular books that might fill a very specific need. I don't really care if a book is popular if it is going to be a lifeline to that one person--for instance, certain GBLT novels for teens. It is also my perception that we are in a big anti-intellectual period right now and I would hate for everyone to weed the books that are just too academic for the masses yearning to be mindlessly entertained. It might turn out that we will come to see this like the destruction of the library in Alexandria, only we will have internally destroyed our wonderful collection of knowledge. All that being said, our church library has not been weeded in decades and most of the people on my committee hold books to be quite sacred and so there I am the voice of mad purging. Books that were rubbish back then and have sat untouched for 50 years are still rubbish. It is complicated, neh? Finally, I have never actually encountered a library (besides maybe the library of congress) that actually archives all those old gems. Is that an urban legend?

Apr 27, 2011, 12:18 pm

The thing is that fewer and fewer people actually care about old books... I've discarded beautiful old children's books from the 40s, 50s, and 60s that I've kept, simply because I love the way they look. But I'm a crazy book person. Most people aren't. Plus, the books are not valuable if they have library stamps on them either. Put a pocket in and stamp your library name on the book, and suddenly any future value is gone. I love books, but I don't have a problem pitching them--do try to recycle though.

(by the way, however many of those penny books you buy from Amazon, they charge you 3.95 shipping for EACH book.)

Apr 27, 2011, 1:21 pm

As a birthday gift a few years ago I was delighted to get SIX books by Russell Hoban that had each cost Victor just a penny plus postage. All were new, all are splendid. (Hoban's one of my favorite authors, Victor is my one and only husband.)

Apr 27, 2011, 2:42 pm

Of course they make the money on the postage. But some of the local pennypinchers decided we should be making money from books we weed by selling them on Amazon. These are books that are being weeded because we have multiple copies at multiple branches and need the space. We've determined it's not worth our time and effort to try to sell the book unless we can get at least $7 or $8 for them. So the others go into boxes for the Friends for the book sales.

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!

Apr 27, 2011, 2:53 pm

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.

Edited: Apr 27, 2011, 3:55 pm

We get no extra room for our collection, so everything coming in, should theoretically be pushing something out. You do your best to make those decisions, circulation statistics help. If you get worried about their intrinsic value you are screwed. Libraries are generally not the type of place that can provide a "historic snapshot" on every subject. There might be a few who have the room to do that. I get more upset when I see a dirty, dusty, shelf-clogged collection that is guarded by a watchdog Librarian who's let personal hoarding habits destroy a library. There are plenty of old bookstores which provide that type of morbid atmosphere.

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.

Apr 28, 2011, 6:50 am

>25 jjwilson61: But we're not a research library. We're a public library. The last thing I want to see is a parent come in for medical information and check out a book that advises something like giving aspirin to a child with chicken pox! (Or something similar.) A public library can not be all things to everybody. You have to make choices. There isn't room for the up to date medical book if you refuse to let go of the one that's 20 years old.

Edited: Apr 28, 2011, 7:56 am

We send some for pulping, send some to be sent overseas to a third world country (these are carefully selected for relevence eg. we wouldn't send an old medical book to them or computer books about Win 98) and some we sell on a stand in the library for $1-$5 each.

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"

Apr 28, 2011, 3:15 pm

If you are being asked to discard books that are still useful (not out of date in terms of information or still of cultural value) and if that policy is, in the case of public libraries, coming from your employing authority (and they are local politicians of course) then ask yourself who stands between you and those politicians: who is rubberstamping those instructions? Answer must be your friendly local chief librarian, borough librarian, must it not? Do you think your chief librarian can wear two hats at the same time? Not only is it absurd, it is downright unethical. Just see what happens if you try to challenge those instructions via your professional body. Make sure you read the code of conduct first.

May 1, 2011, 12:13 am

I agree with you. when I buy new titles I have to ask myself where am I going to put it? I treat it like my wardrobe at home. One item in , one item out. The collection must be relevant and interesting.

May 1, 2011, 5:10 pm

With electronic circulation records (identities removed) you should be able to check to see if a book has circulated in the past year or two.... dust isn't a really accurate indicator. This library also records when books are left on the table because they have been used for in-library reference search.

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.

Jan 11, 2012, 5:37 pm

>7 Jennifertapir: Jennifertapir What happened to the Free Enterprise System in Britain? Are there no entrepreneurs who will buy old books by weight and sell them to the highest bidder anywhere in the world? Those old books still have value. There are many places where old books are still worth a few shillings apiece and new books are totally unaffordable. Even Nigeria would buy old books at thirty pence apiece and sell them for a profit. All one has to do is request proposals from odd-lot business people and pick the best offer.

Jan 14, 2012, 8:17 am

A lot of the 'ancient grot' books we get rid of are offered to a local art school for altered book projects, and many of the nicer (but not circulating) old books are set outside the doors on a "Free!" cart (they're always gone in an hour or two).

Jan 16, 2012, 1:19 pm

Did you see the carved book art that randomly showed up in Edinborough? Amazing! See them here.

Jan 17, 2012, 2:03 am

There is a blog that provides a DIY project for using old but still attractive book covers and turning them into picture frames:

Jan 20, 2012, 6:50 am

Thanks for the blog link! What a great idea for those beautiful old books that you don't want to toss but you know you will never ever read!

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!