Annoyed Librarian
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Circulating in San Diego

In a remarkable story about the San Diego Public Library, we find that half of the books in the collection have been checked out just within the past 12 months, and over 80% of them just in the last 4 years. That’s fantastic circulation.

In an era in which it’s easier than ever to entertain or educate yourself without checking out a paper book from a library, the citizens of San Diego still go in, find books, and check them out. Heck, they probably even read them. They’re apparently book crazy out there in San Diego.

Granted, there are some San Diegoans who don’t like books. After hearing that a fellow citizen liked to read books, one octogenarian who never visits libraries and who appeared to have no relevance whatever to the discussion said that a “small subset of the population” loves printed books, but he “wondered” whether taxpayers should support that sort of thing.

It’s understandable. A lot of people in the country wonder whether we should continue to support Social Security and Medicare for the elderly, but, you know, different strokes.

The folks who are checking out tens of thousands of books from the library every year might wonder why they’re considered a “small subset of the population.” How small a subset could have checked out so many books in such a short period of time?

The sheet metal mechanic who reads a few dozen books a year probably thinks it’s pretty normal, but then he’s in the library like the thousands of other people checking out books all the time.

Some people who maybe aren’t that great at statistics or critical thinking would try to argue against the San Diego Public Library having paper books by talking about how reading books in general has declined (not that much) since the seventies, or how reading paper versus electronic books has declined slightly in the last few years.

That’s a really tempting trap to fall into if you’re claiming to be a “watchdog” and you need something to complain about.

But the proof is in the pudding, or rather in the circulation statistics. If a library collection is circulating half its inventory every year and over 80% within 4 years, then people there want paper books. It doesn’t really matter what national trends are, but that’s hard to understand when you have an axe to grind.

Fortunately, I work in a library, so I have people to grind my axes for me.

So congratulations to the SDPL for choosing their books so wisely, and with such an understanding of the desires of the community, that such a large portion of the books have circulated in such a short time.

Great work. You stay classy, San Diego,



  1. Former Library Director says:

    You really should compare and contrast this story, about unused library books, and that people are pissed to have them in the library and have kept them and moved them, with the Virginia library which actually weeded, and had people upset about that!!

  2. The Librarian With No Name says:

    This might be the first news story I’ve seen in a while where the comments actually add value to the original piece. The Octogenarian is tearing it up in the comments section. Although I’m not entirely sure he’s not a satirical account. Most of his comments are pretty well in line with the rest of the story, but his suggestion that any firehouse that hasn’t responded to a fire in a week needs to be closed down reads like an opinion piece from The Onion.

  3. I understand what you’re saying, but I think the devil may need an advocate. Stats show that only a small percentage of the population actually drives circulation. So, if 67% of the population has a card, most of those only check out 1 or 2 items a year. It’s probably less than 10% of the population that’s actually driving those circulation numbers- so to dismiss the old dude’s complaint so quickly might be a mistake.

    Also, that means that half the books haven’t been read in the last year! That’s not so great, really. It just depends on how you look at it.

  4. Sue Cordek says:

    The $185 million, nine-story San Diego Central Library that opened September 30 includes a high school, auditorium, garden, cafe and three-story domed reading room called The People’s Penthouse, along with many other eye-popping services. I saw it last weekend and it is magnificent! It is heartening to see a community that has a vision of this scope and imagination for what library services can be. Build it and they will come!

  5. Captain Librarian says:

    I’m sure that the percentage of the population that availed themselves of fire or police protection in the past year probably pales in comparison to the percentage who used the library, but I’m not in favor of defunding those at the whim of any given cranky octogenarian either.

    /get off my lawn.

    • Can we defund cranky octogenarians? I’m paying for them to sit around and crank.

    • Alex Kyrios says:

      I’m afraid not, Joneser, not unless you’re willing to put up with a lot more crying death panel.

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