I mentioned that one of the ways to identify an old bookseller was by the refrain “We used to get that all the time,” usually uttered when a book that used to be put out for ten cents, if at all, turns up for $500 in some younger bookseller’s catalog. Well, I just thought of something I used to get all the time which I still get from time to time. It’s the question, “Did the Newberry throw away all these books?”
See, a lot of libraries hold sales just of books they are dropping from their collection. The Newberry does not do this. If it had been discarding 100,000 or so books every year for the last couple of decades, there’d be a lot more room for me to sit and price records. We deal in donated books. Yes, some books come down from upstairs, but even these are not from the collection. They’re books which were donated for the collection but which did not make the cut: either the Newberry already had them, or the curators decided they didn’t WANT a collection of books dealing with the image of the window washer in literature.
Once in a great while, a book is donated to the collection which is in better shape than the copy we already had. In this case, provided the book is not a $50,000 rarity, the previous copy is sent down for me to sell. At a guess, less than a hundredth of one percent of our selection in July has been deaccessioned.
I explained this once to someone who could not grasp the concept. “Libraries throw away books?” he demanded. “Why?”
Deaccessioning is difficult to explain, especially for me, since I’m agin it. “There’s always room for another book,” I say, as I squeeze sideways to get between the boxes. But there are those who feel otherwise.
Now, we can all agree that if someone has dropped the book in the lake, it probably needs to be thrown away. And if the puppy tore out a few dozen pages, yes, that should probably be deaccessioned, or weeded. (If the puppy weed…no, I won’t say it. This is a serious discussion.)
And books which have been rendered obsolete can probably go. For years, there have been monthly index volumes to periodical literature which were superseded by annual volumes. Do you NEED that microfiche catalog from 1997, printed on microfiche, especially if your microfiche reader broke down in 2008?
After that, it becomes a matter of controversy. Some libraries have very specific policies: a book which has not been checked out in five years must go, a work of nonfiction over 20 years old must be thrown away or reclassified as a “classic” by vote of the Library Board, any book found guilty of badmouthing any ethnic, racial, or political group in the community is tossed away before it can cause trouble.
Other libraries are more freeform. A classmate of mine in library school went on to manage a small town library, where she took great joy in weeding out the entire science fiction and fantasy section because those books were antireligious. Another went on to school libraries where she led a push to discard all children’s books in which all characters were the same color, since these failed to promote diversity. (The Three Little Pigs?) It’s an art form, deaccessioning, and it would be wrong of me to complain about any of these methods, I suppose.
Because a lot of those libraries send their books to me. We not only save them the money they’d spend to have the books hauled away, we salve their consciences. They haven’t killed the books this way; they’ve just moved them to other shelves.