Posts tagged ‘library’

May 22, 2011

weeding, and a return to writing

hello friends. been a while.
i could say, very briefly, that i’ve been busy with legitimate articles of business in the last month, what with being on the brink of leaving a job i’ve held for almost five years and preparing to head into new territory, career-wise, but that’s not really what i want to write about right now.
right now i want to talk about something that happened the other day, and see if i can get my old rusty blog engines up and running again in the process.
for the last few months i’ve been working a volunteer shift at the north portland branch of the multnomah county library. i putter about straightening spines, scanning dewey decimal codes for out-of-place books, and quietly wishing violence upon the occasional unknowing patron oblivious enough to leave their ringer on. i also get to indulge my fantasy of pretending to be giles a couple of hours a week; but i digress.
for the last few weeks my job has been to weed out books that haven’t been checked out in over a year (‘weeding’ is in fact the library term for this). these books are shipped off to title wave, the library’s affiliated bookseller; where, it is hoped, someone will finally take them home.
reading a list of books that no one has checked out in 12 months is like looking at graves so worn by time you can’t make out the names anymore. some of these books are obvious contenders for the pile; books on fly fishing and dick cheney’s vice presidency and so forth. but for every time-specific, disposable book there were at least five books that looked like they bore a wealth of history and secrets and stories about people long buried and events long forgotten (i took a few pictures of some piles to illustrate this).

the whole thing made me really sad. it had never occurred to me before that books might disappear from a library; it never occurred to me that what i saw was not what had always been there. i asked my coworkers about it, and it was pointed out that libraries (mine at least) do not exist for purely archival purposes; they are there to move books and get people reading, and that goal is driven by the taste of the public. somewhere in me the great fear welled: didn’t this logically mean that if public tastes tended to the rubbish and trash side of the literary spectrum, that the quality of books would inevitably decline? would there ever come a time when Twilight went a year without being read?
after a bit of discussion and reflection, i went from a feeling of simple sadness over the book-purging to a more scientific perspective: this was a process of selection without any malice or mind behind it. old books being cleared out to make way for the (probably inconceivably huge) amount of new material being produced on a daily basis. it’s not pleasant to think about, but there’s only so much space in our little corner of the world.
the reason i wanted to write about all this is that i hope knowing how multnomah county library’s system works (i assume all library’s have some sort of system akin to this one) will incline them, next time they’re out at their local library, to pause a moment before passing on that book that caught their interest and consider the power that this system puts in the hands of the patron. any book that you check out is basically guaranteed to endure for a whole year. and while it is certainly true that many books are perhaps rightly ignored and subject to library evolution, it is within the power of any one person to save a book from my list.
if they want to.