Thursday, February 01, 2007

Dumpster-Diving for Books

It's just a sad fact of life that a library has a limited number of bookshelves on which to house its collection as the books come and go each day. And it's another given that the rate at which books are published each year results in libraries being faced with the constant battle of "out with the old and in with the new." We as readers demand that our public libraries make available the latest novels, poetry and non-fiction, but at the same time we expect to find our old friends on the shelves when we want to revisit them. Of course this puts libraries in a no-win situation. I'm always amazed when I request a book from even as recently as the 1980s from my county library system and they actually find a copy for me. Regular library visitors understand the process and know that the culling is necessary even though the thought of so many books being trashed still breaks their hearts. And some are still shocked when they see the culling process in action.
Upset when she spotted two large garbage bins full of books, a Newmarket resident is calling on the town to improve how it discards materials from its public library.

"When I visited the library, I saw two blue industrial bins overflowing with books," Kelly Ritter said.

"Most were kids' novels, many were in good shape and some were brand spanking new. I was shocked."

Library staff are defending the move, however.

Bins were needed because library staff had just "weeded through the children's section to make room for a young adult section," library chief executive officer Pat Wilson said.

Like all libraries across Ontario, the Newmarket Public Library has a process in place to discard books, Ms Wilson stressed.
Books no long suitable are sold for 10 cents each at the library, while others are donated to agencies, literacy groups, seniors centres and prisons, Ms Wilson said.
Sorting through the bins, Ms Ritter said she came away with "a bag full of books" suitable for her family.

"My son picked out a number of books for his sister," Ms Ritter said.

"Other people who could use some of these books if they knew they were available. There are people in our town who can't afford books. Let's not forget them. A free sign could be put on their bins."

I understand how the lady feels. I would almost certainly do a little "dumpster diving" of my own if I found a couple of trash bins behind my local library that were stuffed with library discards. How about you? Be honest now...


  1. I would certainly be digging through those bins. I usually go for new books, but I couldn't turn down free books any day.

    I'm also thinking that this library and the library you posted about a couple of days ago need to get together.

  2. Now that's a good point. I hadn't connected the two libraries in my mind before you said that. I received a telephone number via email this evening so that I can call the "empty library" to see what kind of help they are getting and whether or not they can accept book donations directly from the public.

  3. Everyone around me knows that if they have books they want to get rid of, all they have to do is send them my way. If I don't want the books, I post them on or and hope they find good homes. To me, it's sacriligeous to throw out a book.

  4. I recently completed a graduate degree in library and information science and I remember one of the "dilemmas" we talked about in a collection development class was what to do with older materials that have been weeded out of a collection. Sadly, I think there are other libraries out there that are doing the same thing - getting rid of the books entirely (fellow students informed me that sometimes their libraries would wait until the cover of night to make their disposals so as not to be "caught" by patrons similar to the one described in your post - and no, I am not kidding here). To me this dilemma is a no-brainer - donate the books to the library's annual book sale and help increase funds for said library, or donate the books to senior centers, homeless shelters, schools, etc.!

  5. I just find it hard to believe that the books couldn't be disposed of rather quickly, and relatively cheaply, by letting people take what they want from the discards if the libraries can't store them for a public sale...or by transporting them to VA hospitals and the like. It always saddens me to see a book being junked for lack of space when there are so many people who would love to get their hands on those books.

  6. I met a modern artist who shreds discarded books and makes them into "literaturwurst" - sausages made from the book choppings. His work was featured at MoMA.

    There are some books that seemingly will have no use to anyone, old travel guides and reference books for instance. But can you imagine if someone threw away the "useless" Circle of Knowledge?

  7. Yeah, I can't think of any better use for something like old software manuals are other out-of-date guides for products that no longer exist, etc. They need to be recycled into something useful so that artist you mentioned is definitely onto something good.

    But you are right...some books deserve to live on just for what they represent. I'm sure that the author of The Circle of Knowledge never dreamed that we would be talking about his book more than a hundred years after he published it. If all copies had been destroyed by now for being too old, we wouldn't be talking about it...and that would be our loss.