Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Bold Librarians Making Hard Choices

There sure are a lot of busybodies in the world, and some of them just aren’t content to let libraries be libraries.

The thing the busybodies really can’t stand is seeing books thrown away at libraries, because every book is a precious item as long as you don’t have to keep it in your own home.

I’ve written about the weeding busybodies. They pass a dumpster full of old library books and their first thought isn’t to mind their own business or assume there’s a good reason for a library to be throwing away books.

No, it’s to believe that the barbarians have stormed the gates and civilization is nearing the end.

However, it turns out that even if the books aren’t old library books, busybodies will complain.

In Hawaii, a viewer “called to tell KHON2 hundreds of donated books are tossed out weekly at Kaimuki public library and asked us to find out why.” Because it would have been entirely too much trouble to just walk into the library and ask someone.

Being the good investigative journalists that they are, KHON2 sent an undercover reporter to infiltrate the Friends of the Library for three months to find out the scintillating truth behind this scandal.

No, not really. They called up the library and talked to a library assistant, who is even identified as such.

It turns out that dumpster gets filled two to three times a week with discarded donations.

Unsurprisingly, the library “can’t use books that have stains, bug droppings or pages torn, so they go in the dumpster. Magazines more than a year old are are also not good donations.”

You have to wonder what some people are thinking when they donate their garbage or recycling to the library instead. The world can survive without that battered copy of The Firm that you can’t bear to throw out.

The weirdest donations might be the magazines. “‘Time,’ ‘Newsweek,’ ‘People’ — the things that change so quickly, you don’t want two years ago, people who aren’t even married anymore are on the cover.” That’s a good line.

This implies that not only are there people who save their People Magazines, no doubt for reference purposes, but that some of those people believe others will benefit from their old People Magazines once the reference purposes have been personally exhausted.

Some people are just crazy, I guess.

Libraries already have old copies of People, and nobody would want to buy them at a book sale. Old books I can at least see someone thinking are valuable, but old People Magazines? I just don’t get it.

What I loved about the story is the library assistant calmly setting the busybody straight.

“If you wouldn’t want to look at it or pay $1 for it, if it’s not clean or in good condition, why would we put it out for anyone else?” she said.

Hmm, that almost seems to make sense. But KHON2 didn’t want to stop there with the thoughts of a mere library assistant.

“Other charities KHON2 called, including Goodwill, say they follow the same guidelines for donations.”

Stop the virtual presses. It’s as if the library has a perfectly sound and rational policy about discarding old crap that nobody wants but that some deluded people can’t bear to just throw away themselves.

Librarians have a reputation for being an idealistic lot. They go into debt earning master’s degrees to work in low paying jobs so they can serve the public, after all, so how realistic could they be.

But in cases like this we see librarians in a new public light. They have the will and courage to see books and magazines for what they are and to make the hard decisions that ordinary people can’t bear to.

Mere normals look at an old stained paperback book and see a precious commodity, not precious to them of course, but precious to somebody!

Librarians look at the same book and see it for the trash it is.

Bold librarians making hard choices. It’s what we do.



  1. Bonegirl06 says:

    Spring is always the worst. People clean out their houses and think we want all their out-dated text books from when they attended college in the 70’s. Or they think we want their run of Highly Specific Journal that spans sixty years. And then they to deduct their “donation” on their taxes!

    • Ugh tax write offs… I hate it when people will ONLY donate something if we can promise it’s tax deductible. Do you want to get rid of it or don’t you?

    • “Or they think we want their run of Highly Specific Journal that spans sixty years.”

      I’ve been chuckling at this for a solid minute now. I would totally love to have a copy of Highly Specific Journal! :D

  2. Lincoln Lyceum says:

    Great answers from the library assistant! That said, what does folks thinking that the library is a good place to dump their junk say about their perception of the public library?

  3. Emily Dickinson says:

    Try a dumpster full of stock reports dating back to the 60s (“this is VERy Important InforMAtion!!”); encyclopedias and atlases going back to the 50s; 25 year-old videotapes…

    “What does folks thinking that the library is a good place to dump their junk say about their perception of the public library?”

    It says pretty much the same thing as their thinking the public library is a good place to dump their kids for a day, or a summer.

  4. Frumious Bandersnatch says:

    There are some hard questions I ask myself when sorting donations. Do I stick to it? Can I smell it? Has something chewed on it? Did it start off that color? Yes, I personally have thrown many a partially eaten picture book in the dumpster, heartless bureaucrat that I am.

  5. Old People magazines only get valuable when they’re 50+ years old or so, when everyone has thrown away their copies and you need to do some “research” on the olden days… Like what kinds of advertisements they carried. Of course, libraries don’t have to keep ’em. They belong in antique shops. ;-)

  6. People have this ingrained thing against throwing away books, so we need to act as the undertakers of their books for them. This is a Good Thing. It’s part of the impulse that tells them library closures are wrong.

    The idea that the things we collect are in some sense sacred, and that their destruction is in some way wrong, is actually quite positive for us.

    (Not representing my employer)

    • Lincoln Lyceum says:

      Now, that’s a very interesting take on the subject.

    • Except some of the things we do are “gooder” than others, and we don’t have time for all of them. We receive hundreds of donated books a week. What is so “quite positive” about spending our staff time dealing with donations instead of maintaining our own collections?

    • It’s the same way at my used bookstore. People call me daily with “really old books,” and full runs of Road and Track from 1994, and other stuff they found when grandpa died.
      They all expect that when they’re done with a book, someone (me) will love to give them money for it.
      “We’re not buying books,” I say.
      “Well, what am I supposed to do with all of these?”
      I skip over the obvious answer and suggest they donate them to the library or local food bank thrift store.
      Where I can pick over the keepers, pay a better price, and support my local food bank.

  7. Library Spinster says:

    I used to handle donations at one branch. There was the box I opened and immediately had to tape up, because the smell of mildew was so bad. The reference book set that was older than I am. And, of course, years and years of National Geographics.

    • This reminds me of getting boxes with 30 years of mildewed church bulletins at our branch library in Austin long ago. They had to be taken outside very quickly.

  8. LongAgo Librarian says:

    My first library job was setting up a law library with donated case books that had been in a garage. In Florida. For many years.

    The dust and the mold were everywhere but the highlight was when a scorpion appeared in one of the volumes.

    Should have had the “just say no” policy in place for such beleaguered books.

  9. Edna Allyn says:

    The reporter investigated our library dumpster the day after trash pick up. She missed seeing the dozen boxes of VHS videocassettes of home made recordings. What can we do with those that can support the library?? And the donation of political campaign signs to the dumpster?

    • Frumious Bandersnatch says:

      My personal favorite is the folks who donate illegally pirated DVDs…we’re supposed to do what, with those exactly?

  10. Thanks for the BEST laugh I have had all week!

  11. I’m with you, Timothy. People donate their old books and magazines to libraries because they think they are valuable and think that we will value them too. It’s not super fair to vilify book burners and at the same time ridicule people who don’t like to see books in dumpsters and landfills.

  12. anonymous says:

    People really think these things have value, so you can’t really blame them. They do not know better, and that’s because librarians don’t educate the public about libraries. Librarians do a very poor job of communicating what libraries are, what they do, and how librarians manage it. And ALA is no help. Sigh.

  13. Well, Anonymous, at least you are out there educating the people. You are, aren’t you? I mean do you think you could be a little more negative a pessimistic? The fact is, even if we launched an “educate people about the real value of old moldy books” campaign, they wouldn’t listen. It’s an uphill battle just trying to get them to know we have certain new, or old, services at the library. And it would work against us in the end, because it’s advantageous to us for people to think books are worth something.

  14. dan cawley says:

    some years back, a former teacher/city councilor donated his encyclopedias for a tax write-off. I opened a random page and learned “some day, man will go to the moon.” this is a true story.

    • That Thing says:

      Yep. Mom asked me if my library wanted her 30 yr old encyclopedias. I told her we didn’t, and that no one else did either, so that she should just throw them out, or use them is some sort of craft project..

      She was shocked and her response was “…but there are underprivileged children somewhere that will need these encyclopedias!”

      Sorry mom. Outdated info helps no one.

    • Maybe they will go someday. You never know.

  15. I was a church librarian. Try telling people that forty
    pounds of “Left Behind” books are not going
    to find a happy home outside of a landfill.

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