Discarded and donated books waiting to be taken to the dump. (Photo by Saara Itkonen)

Lit Column: Books Don’t Last Forever

‘We actively work to avoid adding books to our shelves that only sit there and collect dust.’

By Saara Itkonen, chief librarian at the Creston Valley Public Library

Last week, I watched the 1987 film “84 Charing Cross Road.” The movie stars Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins, and Judi Dench and tells the story of a writing correspondence between a book lover in New York and staff at an antique bookstore in London. The movie is really about people who love old books and develop their identity through them. It’s a simple story. An ode to book lovers without too much drama.

I bring this movie up because I know that many members of the Creston community, like all of us that work at the library, also love books. However, as people who work to run a public library, this doesn’t mean that we can – or should – keep all the books that are donated to us.

We actually have to be very careful about the books we add to our collection because of our experience and expertise as library workers. We actively work to avoid adding books to our shelves that only sit there and collect dust. Therefore, when we build our book collections we need to make sure that our books (and other materials) will be of interest to enough members of our community to merit the shelf space they take up.

We select books according to a variety of criteria that include:

• Popular, relevant and/or up-to-date information

• High interest

• Essential resources and reads

Therefore, when we are approached with library donations, we use this same lens to assess whether to accept the donations.

The following book donations are ones that we will always consider adding to our library collection:

• New and popular fiction

• Newer, high-interest non-fiction

The following book donations are ones that we can never add to our library collection:

• Medical/Health books – these topics age quickly based on new information and must be continually updated in our collection to avoid spreading misinformation

• Encyclopedias

• Computer Books – also age quickly

All other donations are passed on to our book sale. However, our book sale volunteers (Friends of the Library) also can’t accept everything because, through their expertise, they know what sells at book sales and what gets left behind.

So, unfortunately, many of our donations end up in the dump. Our area doesn’t have recycling facilities to deal with books (including processing the glue and plastic that are involved in book binding) so the library has to pay to dispose of the books that can’t be used.

Which means, when patrons dump their materials after hours or through our book drop, without allowing staff to assess the materials, we often end up using our operating funds to dispose of the items. So the donations, instead of helping the library, harm us by costing us money.

We understand that for many members of our community, the books you donate have been a part of your life and may hold great memories and meaning for you. But those memories and meanings are your’s and don’t necessarily travel along with the book. Books are only useful to public libraries as long as the information within is still relevant and of interest to our patrons.

Unlike 84 Charing Cross Road, libraries are not antique bookstores. Nor are we special collections or archives. We can’t accept everyone’s old books and it costs us money to dispose of all the ones we can’t use. So please, if you’re wanting to donate books to the library, give us a call first and/or bring your books by and let us have a look at what we can accept. Thank you so much to those patrons who already do this.

And if we can’t take some or all of your books, please treat our staff with kindness. We don’t hate books, we just can’t use them all in our library because we only collect what our community reads and they like to read new, informative, and interesting materials that don’t fall apart in their hands.

Upcoming Events and Programs at the Library:

Summer Reading Club – Weekly children’s’ activities for children ages 4 to 13

Family Storytime in the Garden – Thursdays at 10:30 a.m.

Saturday Children’s Movie Matinees – coming soon

READ MORE: Lit Column: Are You a Friend of the Library?

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