Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Decent End for Unwanted Books

By now everyone has seen numerous stories about books being thrown out by libraries as part of the regular culling process that has to go on if new books are to find a home on library shelves. In with the new, out with the old. Libraries have limited shelf space, much of it now devoted to DVDs and CDs, so that's the rule by which they live and die.

We all wish that most of the discards could be given a second life by being placed in the hands of hospital patients, those in prisons, and group homes. But we all know that a substantial percentage of them simply end up taking up space in some landfill. That's why it's good to see that there is an alternative to that kind of waste. Colorado's Post Independent tells what happened to leftover books at one of the state's regional libraries.
Donated by citizens or culled from the library shelves, they were damaged or out-of-date, the books had remained unsold at the Basalt River Days' book sale in mid-August. Schools and individuals had been notified they were free, and a few had been rescued. But the rest silently soaked up whatever page-curling sun and cover-swelling moisture the elements dealt them.

Not so long ago, the land where the library now stands was marshy, and these books might have slowly sunk into the mix of water, bugs and roots.

Something similar was in store for them tonight.
So Hans Ayers, a friend who works at West Glenwood's Caca Loco composting site, met me at the library with his van. The books on the library porch were about to be destroyed and reborn again - as fertilizer. Moving them from the porch to the van was the first step in their voyage into Caca Loco's "soup": the batter of paper, wood chips and sanitation waste that, properly mixed, drained, steamed and strained, becomes the fertilizer that feeds many of our valley's trees and plants.
The Caca Loco compost site at the South Canyon landfill is a busy and smelly place nestled among empty, sweet-smelling hills. Dust swirls in the air. Trucks beep as they back up to dump their loads of wood, cardboard and other paper waste: food packaging, milk cartons, tissues, shredded paper and magazines.
Now there's one stinky story that actually made me smile and feel a little better about the fate of unwanted and obsolete books.


  1. How interesting. I work for a big library system and had no idea that books sometimes end up in landfills. My understanding is that when we cull weeds from the collection the withdrawn materials are sold to wholesalers who in turn sell the books on amazon, e-bay etc. I hate to think of once proud library books going to landfills.

  2. Alan, I've salvaged a few books from the dumpster (thank God it's a very clean one not used for garbage) in the parking lot of my library. I've seen dozens of books that aren't worth taking...out of date technical stuff or trashed copies of trash novels, etc. Those definitely end up in one of our local landfills.