Friday, June 15, 2007

Too Many Books, Too Little Space

I reached the breaking point almost eight years ago, and I imagine that many of you have also reached it: every new book I bring into the house can only end up on my bookshelves if I remove a book that's already there. That means, in effect, that for every book I add to my collection, another one ends up in one of the closets where it immediately falls to a sort of "second class" status in my home library.

Well, if it makes you feel any better, according to the 5 Towns Jewish Times it's not just home libraries that have reached that tipping point.
“Unfortunately, we are forced to weed out our books every month to make room on the shelves for new ones,” says George Trepp, director of the Long Beach Public Library. “This is very frustrating for our staff, who love books and want to share as many of them as possible with the community.”

The discarded books are forwarded to a book reseller, Better World Books, with a percentage of the sales coming back to the library. Those books that are not sold are donated to a few different charities such as Books for Africa, National Center for Family Literacy, and Room to Read.

“It’s disheartening to the board of trustees, the library staff and the Long Beach community that we can no longer keep or expand our book selection,” says Mr. Trepp. “We are close to one book bought equaling one book being taken off the shelf.”
Ten years ago, the library underwent a significant expansion. “We knew going into the last renovation that we would outgrow the space again and we hope to find a solution to this problem,” says Mr. Trepp. “Weeding out our books is the library’s last resort.”
I suppose that I shouldn't be at all surprised to read about something like this. After all, even the largest and best funded of libraries has a finite supply of shelf space in which to place its books. And, of course, modern libraries are feeling the shelf space crunch even more these days because so much of their space is taken up by DVDs, VHS tapes, CDs and books on cassette tapes. Book weeding is something that all libraries, including most home libraries, needs to do on a regular basis. There's not much point in keeping out-of-date computer books, discredited old science books, and the like on anyone's shelves when space is at such a premium. But I do find it a little sad that so many worthy, but out-of-print, books are being culled from the one place that most readers expect to find them.

On the other hand, there is a little touch of good news hidden in this situation. The cause of this whole problem is the fact that so many thousands of new books are being published around the world every year. That's a good thing.


  1. Where did you find that picture? That's quite the mountain of books. I've never thought about the problem of libraries not having enough space. It just never occurred to me. That really must be a sad thing for them, to have to remove books. My library system has nearly every book I have ever looked for, I suppose that could change someday...

  2. For individuals (I have no advice for the libraries) who have an overflow of books, you can list them at People will mooch them from you, which will give you points. You can either use those points to mooch more books OR you can donate those points to libraries, prisons, children's hospitals and more.

  3. Matt, it's just a picture off the net that I've seen used in a few places. It's an impressive stack, for sure.

    I've been pretty fortunate myself in finding the books that I'm looking for, but that's because I'm part of a county system with multiple locations and one of the various libraries usually come up with the books I want. It must be a different story for libraries that support small towns or that aren't part of a "system."

  4. That's good advice, Dewey. I haven't tried yet. I've looked it over but can't seem to find the energy to get started with it.

  5. I use LibraryThing to track my book collection and it is true that the size of that collection is very nearly static. There's just no place to put the books! One comes in and another *must* go out.

    The problem is that I still have books crawling up the baseboards.

  6. As long as my closets have some space, Jill, I won't be going static. Of course, that also depends on my wife's patience not going static...I need to keep stretching that successfully. :-)

  7. This is certainly a problem. You should see my house right now! It looks like a library exploded all over the place! I'm in the process now of weeding down my books. It just has to be done.

    The one thing about libaries "weeding" books that bothers me, is that the books that go are the ones least read. My libary has lots of copies of all Danielle Steele's novels, but I tried to find a copy of George Orwell's Burmese Days and ILL had to go to CHICAGO to find one. That's 2 1/2 hours away!! The same with an Anne Bronte novel. Nobody appreciates the Classics anymore!

  8. Hear! hear! to all those comments. The question is : what to weed? I have been busy starting a LibraryThing catalog, and every day am discovering books which I say "thank goodness i didn't get rid of that!" Ols penguins that i could have discarded - with the old orange word-only covers - precious now, although only a few years ago, worthless.

    I can't ven bring myself to throw out old travel guides - no longer useful as guides, but the historical slant on things, and my own margin notes etc make them precious to me.

    I have been sizing up the living room for additional shelves (again).

    When I worked as a school librarian, I had no trouble weeding - I was there to support the curriculum (as well as leisure reading - it is always harder to weed fiction, but teens wil let things witho out of date covers sit, so eventually they do weed themselves). So what was there had to be relevant to current need. i was not an archivist. but in my personal habits, i am part antuquarian, part archivist, part obsessive!

  9. Stephanie, you bring up an excellent point. That is exactly the way, from what I've read, that most libraries begin to make their "weeding out" choices. And that's kind of sad. It kills me to see a whole shelf of Danielle Steele at my local branch and to only find five or six copies of anything by Dickens. I'm positive it's not because the another 30 copies of Dickens have been checked out already. :-(

  10. Sally, you made me regret again how I got rid of about 20 of the big Wordsworth Classics editions that I picked up in London bookstores for a pound a piece. I only have one left, and I only have that one because I didn't find it when I weeded out the others in the group. I think that Half-Price books actually paid me more for them than my London purchase price...but I miss them.

    I think I have the same tendencies that you have when it comes to keeping books that I's hard to let go. Every so often, I do get some weeding done by telling myself that I'm making space for NEW books, but it never misses that I regret getting rid of most of what I turn loose. What really kills me is when I go hunting for a book that I can clearly picture in my mind, only to come to the realization that it's long gone.

  11. It is very sad that libraries have to weed out their collections I rely on my library because, like you I have just about reached maximum book storage space. As much as I dislike the idea of digital books, they do solve the space issue.

  12. I know what you mean, Stefanie. I'm starting to accumulate some eBooks now that I own one of Sony's readers. I've found myself carrying the reader to appointments and other places where I expect to have some waiting time. It's worked out well because if I get bored with one book, I have at least 20 others between the same "covers."