How to Get Rid of Unwanted Books (Quietly, So as Not to Incite a Riot)

By Stephanie Campbell, MLIS

Stacks of Old Books_437994868When talking about their chosen profession to a general audience, librarians inevitably hear “You must really love books!” And while this is probably true of many of us, I have found that it’s the non-librarians who seem more attached to books, often maniacally so, especially when doing their own weeding projects or witnessing ours. Book sale donations, while wonderful for fundraising, can be the bane of our existence when they contain such gems as midcentury Encyclopedia Britannica sets, not to mention whatever wildlife took up occupancy in the boxes while they were in the attic or garage. And if you try to deny such materials with your donation policy, you are met with indignation about how expensive the set was when new and that “there’s still a lot of good information in there!”

Similarly, it can be hard for librarians to make decisions about old, expensive, previously revered materials. The biggest thing standing in your way of having a great collection is that your shelves are clogged with obsolete items. They haven’t circulated or been used in eons and you know they should go, but what to do with the materials that have been weeded?

Whether the books are donations or discards, make sure you exhaust organizations such as the American Rescue Workers, Goodwill, Salvation Army, Military Order of the Purple Heart, etc. Contact your local churches to see if they have any missionary projects in impoverished areas around the world. Private primary and secondary schools are also an option for unwanted but viable titles. Perhaps you can try selling items through Better World Books, Amazon, eBay, etc.?

Do be aware that charitable and for-profit organizations can be selective about what they will accept. Add to that the guilt you may feel about donating/selling items that are horribly dated or otherwise blatantly undesirable.

If you dumpster them, dumpster divers and/or tattletales will invariably report about the perfectly good books the library is throwing away, which may have been funded by taxpayer dollars. Boxing up books and putting them at the curb can also prove too scintillating. In my experience, boxes were inevitably torn open after library hours and rummaged through. I tried duct-taping the boxes shut and then putting the boxes in garbage bags to disguise them as trash, but not even those measures could deter the rabid bibliophiles (perhaps bibliohoarders or bibliopolice would be a more apt term).

This kind of activity can spur the librarian stealth ops. Place the boxes out at the curb under cover of darkness, or arrive at work pre-dawn and put them out just before trash pickup. It’s amazing we have to go to such lengths. Believe it or not, I once had a colleague who took the library discards home and burned them in her outdoor furnace in an attempt to avoid opprobrium. And librarians are the ones who usually oppose book burning!

Large sets are especially onerous. I once gave away a vintage Oxford English Dictionary set to a local shabby chic home designer and she turned it into a side table for a client (I’m still kicking myself for not getting a photo of that!). Municipalities will often only accept paperback books for recycling. So I also enlisted the help of the library maintenance man to make a complete Contemporary Authors set “go away” by cutting the hardcovers off with his table saw and recycling the pages.

But enough is enough! We never agreed to warehouse items that no one wants. And it’s exhausting trying to hide the dirty little secret that libraries regularly deaccession and often throw away books. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I absolutely love weeding. However, I absolutely hate clogging landfills with stuff that is otherwise reusable or recyclable.

Family Donating_1332264656All laughter aside, we must strike a delicate balance. We want to welcome well-meaning individuals who wish to donate their personal collections for our fundraising efforts. And we also value the members of our community who pay the most attention to us (and what goes into our dumpsters). Our biggest champions can also be our harshest critics. In terms of selling library discards in book sales, you can also face push-back, especially when expensive items are selling for as little as 25 cents.

We take our role of information steward seriously. Transparency is key. Be forthcoming about what you are doing and why. Keeping up with your weeding projects will also prevent the massive deaccessioning jobs that arouse suspicion. I found it best to not “nickel and dime” the process and simply make discarded books free for the taking. And if anyone questioned it, I simply said, “Your tax dollars paid for these, now we’re giving them back to you.” In one of my last jobs, we would take cart after cart of materials that had been weeded, roll them into our book sale area with a “FREE” sign, and most of them would disappear within a few days.

We’d love to hear any funny (or not so funny) stories you’d like to share about navigating the world of unwanted books!

 

Further reading:

ALA’s LibGuide on Discards

“Weeding without Worry” from American Libraries

Check out Awful Library Books (Tagline: “Hoarding is not collection development”) for lots of laughs, plus a section on their website about how to “Discard Responsibly.”

 

stephaniecampbell

Stephanie

Before joining Brodart in 2016, Stephanie Campbell worked for more than 20 years in public, academic, and special libraries. She is an avid gardener, bicyclist, and kayaker. Click here for more.

Attending to the Forgotten: Welcoming Homeless Children into the Fold

By Gwen Vanderhage, MLIS

Homeless boy_383085028Public libraries are very familiar with our country’s homeless population. From small libraries with a handful of regulars, to large libraries with a crowd assembling outside at opening time, most of us service at least some homeless patrons. The current economy and nationwide housing crisis have simply made it harder for families to find places they can afford to live. As a result, the difficult reality facing homeless adult patrons has become a regular part of public library discourse. The movie The Public, by Emilio Estevez, which was released last month (after being screened for librarians at last year’s ALA Annual Conference and this year’s Midwinter), has helped to raise awareness about the issue of homelessness in connection with libraries.

But homelessness often hits kids even harder than adults. Over the last decade, the number of homeless children and teens has grown exponentially. One-third of the homeless population is now comprised of children, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. This population is less visible in the library, since kids are often in school during the day. But they are an important group of people, nonetheless, that are using and benefiting from public library services.

Removing barriers for families that deter them from using the public library is important as we librarians become some of the best partners to help the children of homelessness succeed. Can your library waive the physical address requirement for homeless patrons seeking to acquire a library card? Does your library offer fine forgiveness? Many public libraries are moving to remove fines altogether, whether from children’s materials and cards, or from all materials and cards. When children are unable to control their own transportation to and from the library, fines on materials create a huge barrier to checking out homework materials or books for escapist pleasure reading.

While public schools provide meals and a safe place for children during the day, the stresses of being homeless and the inherent lack of stability impact their academic achievement. Homeless children have higher rates of absenteeism and tend to change schools more frequently. Their literacy and graduation rates are lower than those of their peers. The growing digital divide is yet another problem plaguing these children and other low-income students. While internet access is more available via cheaper phones, it’s hard to do homework research on a phone. Libraries provide materials for homework, computer access, and a safe, warm place after school and on weekends. Some libraries partner with their local school district to provide free lunches during the summer.

Reading to kids_201736358For many years, librarians have partnered with day shelters to provide outreach services and materials for homeless families. Librarians from Queens, New York, to Cleveland and Seattle, share storytimes with kids in shelters. When I was a children’s librarian in Denver, Colorado, I was one of them. I held a weekly storytime for the kids at a nearby women’s and children’s shelter during computer training for mothers. The preschoolers in this group were eager to hear stories, sing songs, and particularly loved to interact with puppets and pop-up books. It was not just a time for the children to learn those storytime skills of active listening and learning vocabulary, but also a time when a grown-up would talk with them and listen to them. As we librarians became more nimble with Every Child Ready to Read practices, we also began to include the mothers, hoping to pass on some of those skills to help parents be a child’s first teacher. Parents under the stress of homelessness are likely not thinking about speaking 30,000 words to their child each day. Anything librarians can do to model the behaviors of reading signs, singing together, and telling stories about what you’re doing will help demonstrate that the foundations of reading readiness are easy to incorporate.

Does your library offer unique services and programs open to, or particularly for, homeless youth and their families? A recent article from School Library Journal, “Almost Home: How Public Libraries Serve Homeless Teenagers,” outlined many efforts aimed to get homeless teens into the library, engage them with programs, and pair them with services. If your area offers services particularly tailored for teens, consider forming a partnership with them. Offering donuts and board games during a time that a social worker can come and help teens is a great way to open the door.

We spend a great deal of energy encouraging people to come in when their children are tots. We are always wondering how to keep the kids coming in to the library until they become adult library advocates. Why not apply that same principle to children who happen not to have a home? Homeless patrons simply represent another subset of our community, albeit one with a particular set of needs and challenges. Providing whatever aid we can and a welcoming place during hard times is a wonderful way to grow lifelong library lovers. Isn’t this one of our primary goals as librarians?

Other resources:

Library Service to Homeless Youth and Families,” Vikki C. Terrile, IFLA

Homelessness: A State of Emergency,” The Seattle Public Library

 

Gwen Vanderhage - 2.5 x 3

Gwen

After spending many years as a children’s librarian and collection development specialist at Denver Public Library, Gwen joined Brodart to share her passion for children’s literature with as many different libraries as possible. Click here for more.

 

Newbery Award Final Contenders: Who Are They? Inquiring Minds Want to Know

By Suzanne W. Hawley, MLS

“The suspense feeds the crowd’s anticipation, which is palpable — it’s almost as if we are all holding our collective breath.

-Kathleen T. Horning, “Secrecy and the Newbery Medal,” School Library Journal, July 6, 2011

Group sitting_1133218661The year I was fortunate enough to be a member of the Newbery Committee, we all agreed that we were inundated with a remarkable number of very fine titles. Our debates went on for hours; so many fascinating perspectives shared about so many wonderful titles. In the wee hours of the morning before the Newbery Award announcement, the committee had whittled down the prospective honors to about 20. At the gentle prodding of our wise chairwoman, we finally settled on four honor books. We could have chosen 16 more!

At the time, and often since then, I wondered how we could promote all the other titles that we found so compelling. Due to the secrecy surrounding the Newbery Committee’s discussions, committee members are not allowed to say what the other books were that rose to the top. Unfortunately, this means that librarians may miss these titles when they are building their collections. Budgets are small, and most of us rely on medal winners, lists of favorites like the Children’s Notables, reviews, and some word of mouth to help inform our choices. I can’t help thinking that some of those titles that were “off the table” would add richness to collections and provide opportunities for students to stretch their proverbial wings in the world of reading.

After the 2019 American Library Association awards were presented this year, Barbara Langridge reminded us on an LM_Net post that “shortlists” are announced for non-fiction finalists. Others chimed in by mentioning that shortlists are also announced for Carnegie and Morris awards. The question “Why not have finalists announced for Newbery and Caldecott as shortlists?” was asked by several people in that series of posts.

This is not a new idea. In 1972, the Children’s Library Division began publishing the list of committee nominations twice a year in Top of the News, as well as in School Library Journal and Booklist.

This practice, originally intended as a one-year experiment, was so successful that it continued for the next five years. Giving in to complaints, primarily that the lists invaded the beloved secrecy surrounding the Newbery discussions, the practice was discontinued in 1977.

I like the idea of announcing the list of finalists for Newbery. However, I would suggest that the list be announced after the awards presentations at ALA Midwinter. Even though committee members correspond frequently throughout the year with suggestions — a process that culminates in seven nominations each — new titles released in December (as in my committee’s case) don’t have the opportunity for a real “vetting” until the committee meets at ALA Midwinter. Possibly, one or more of those would end up as a genuine contender for the award. But if the list were announced prior to the ALA Youth Media Awards announcement, such books would be missed on the list. Also, the committee hasn’t really determined the top titles until they decide on the award and the honor books. Usually, that doesn’t happen until the night before the ALA Awards are announced.

I believe that a list of the 20 or so contenders would be a valuable list for librarians and libraries to have at their fingertips. It gives them another resource for finding important titles to add to their collections and, often, there are titles that students wouldn’t discover unless they were “hand-sold.”

A counterargument might be that surely those titles would be in the list of Notable Children’s Books for that year. However, that list is often over 100 titles and librarians’ budgets are notoriously small. If they can purchase all the Notable Children’s books for that year, then lucky they are. If not, a good resource to draw on would be a list of the top 20 final contenders for the Newbery Award.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts!

 

suzanne

Suzanne

In addition to selecting children and young adult materials for library collections, Suzy Hawley spends her days interfering in her children’s lives as much as possible, wheedling her husband into cooking dinner just one more time, and walking on the beach. Click here for more.