Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sometimes You CAN Judge a Book by Its Cover

We've all heard the adage that you can't do such a thing but I've been weeding several libraries managed by others the last couple of weeks.  This week it was time to turn a critical eye on the collection in one of my libraries.  Believe me, I already knew there were some awful books that should go after seeing the collection last year.  Since I started in the middle of the year and worked without supervision or much direction until the very end of the year (when I was just keeping my head above water before surgery) I didn't know what kind of latitude I had with regard to deciding when a book should go.  Obvious cases like irreparable damage, mold, waterlogged pages, or missing pages were no-brainers.  I was more reluctant about the books which were in generally acceptable shape but were either obviously dated (a book about the worldwide web from 1997, anyone?) or languishing on the shelves for decades.

The new supervisor gave very clear guidelines and warned the principals they'd be seeing significant piles of books removed from shelves.  She said if we removed the books dictated by her standards the collection that remained would look brighter and more inviting.  She was right.  I dispensed with 165 books in the non-fiction collection alone.  That was a very cursory weeding wherein all I did was pick out the ones that looked ancient and worn.  Were I to actually go through book by book and check the copyright or edition dates I could probably remove nearly that number again.  As it is, 88 of the books I did delete are older than I am.  Ladies and gentlemen, pause to read that sentence again.  I was born during the Johnson Administration.  That's how long some of these books have been collecting dust...and that's no exaggeration, I checked the circulation stats on every book I deleted.  Some of them had no record of leaving the library in ten years or more.  None had left the library in at least 5 years.

Allow me to share some of the more....fascinating....examples of library weeds.


This book actually was not old or damaged.  It also had never been checked out.  Call me crazy but I don't see many kindergarten through 5th grade students having a pressing need to research such technicalities as what to do when "a serve that has landed in the proper court bounces and strikes a Line Umpire. The receiver asks that a let be called on the ground that the receiver was hindered in playing the ball because it struck the Line Umpire," as outlined on page 153 in the Line Umpire regulations.  It's a bit absurd that this takes up shelf space when the kids are begging for high interest books about their favorite sports teams and athletes, of which we have only twenty year old books about baseball teams.  No football, no basketball, no hockey.  And don't start me on Mary Lou Retton and the New Gymnasts.  New?  Really?  I'm betting a couple of the athletes in that book have new knees by now.



Here we have a couple of books from the entertainment section.  Electronic Games featuring a cover shot of Space Invaders.  I can recall being in Junior High and playing Pong as I longed to have an Atari system on which to play Space Invaders.  I can't imagine a single student in my school who would find that even remotely entertaining when they can grab mom's or dad's iPhone to play Angry Birds.  And the Battlestar Gallactica...yeah, that's not from the revival.  It's from the original series back in the early 80s.  I'm zapping both books.




Here's an enriching set of biographies. Sly Stallone is not only not a sought after biography but the book had several pages stuck together by some unidentifiable substance.  Maybe Rocky spilled his raw eggs.  The Nixon biography was written during his first administration.  Seriously, pre-Watergate?  The really shocking part of this book being in the library is that around a decade ago when circulation was automated by the inclusion of barcode labels, someone held this book in his or her hands, looked at it, and thought, "Yeah, this is a good book to keep around."  This should  have been weeded back in the 70s in favor of a book including his second term.  If not then, certainly a new one should have been acquired after the man died.  Finally, we have OJ Simpson.  No, just no....children, we will not be reading something presenting this character as a great man.





One might think an arts and crafts book would be less problematic because it's just about creativity.  Creating with Burlap though?  Oh yeah, there's a craft I am sure the kids will be excited about.  I can just see some little kid running home and begging mom to go buy burlap for fun.  Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like itchy brown fabric.













And last but certainly not least I have these two anachronistic presentations.  I Am the Darker Brother: an anthology of modern poems by Negro Americans and George Washington Carver: Negro Scientist.  Both of these books are older than I am.  Again, shortly after we entered the 21st century someone held these two books in hand and decided they were appropriate for a current elementary school library in the inner city, slapped a barcode on them, and added them to the online catalog.   Now, there may be some excellent poetry in the anthology and GWC is certainly an admirable and noteworthy scientist but I think the terminology used by the authors/editors needs to be reflective of the greatness and not so horrendously dated.  Time for some updated titles dealing with the same content in a more culturally appropriate manner.

19 comments:

Jackie said...

You have a mammoth task, and I applaud you for the book purging you have accomplished.
Hugs,
Jackie

Stephen Hayes said...

I can only imagine that many of these questionable books were donated to the schools. I'd hate to think taxpayer money purchased them.

Bijoux said...

I remember seeing a lot of old books at the school libraries. I'm sure it's difficult for most people to throw away a book. Which is why I agree with Stephen that so e were probably donations.

The OJ book must have been a disturbing find!

Tabor said...

Maintain a library collection is always demanding. It is nice with the data that you can see whether the book was ever checked out or even checked out recently. Our town library weeds books that way. Yes, the collection looks more limited, but it is more relevant. Congrats on a job well done!

haphazardlife said...

You had me laughing out loud with this post at the absurdity of it. Though actually it's sad to think this is what kids have access to in school libraries. Yep. Sad.

Craig said...

The cover photo on the Stallone bio looks like it just might've been pre-Rocky. . . And yeah, the whole OJ thing undewent a pretty drastic shift in perception back in the mid-90s, didn't it?

Did the burlap book have any good patterns for penitential shirts, or anything like that?

I'm not certain, but I think I read that GWC bio back when I was in 5th grade (which was (*ahem*) before your antiquarian, Johnson-era self was even born)

And, you know, old-ness isn't, in-and-of-itself, a negative judgement on a book; my man CS Lewis had some very sharp things to say about the value of old books. Just sayin'. . . ;)

But that 80s-vintage BSG was a steaming pile of felderkarb. . .

Suldog said...

It's hard to imagine any kid actually going in with intent to get one of those. Even if some child were to grab a book at random (which is something I used to do in my school libraries, thus my great storehouse of minutia) I don't think these would be books he or she wouldn't immediately return to the shelves in order to try a second random draw. Yikes!

lime said...

jackie, thanks. i need to weed fiction and picture books too but it's been a bit upsetting to certain people who are concerned about public perception. i get it, i do..but these books need to go. period.

stephen, i've run across a few donations but most of the books were just purchased that long ago. once upon a time they were relevant but no more.

bijoux, i'm getting better at throwing away books since working in a library. OJ is reeeeally easy to chuck.

tabor, i'm such a nerd i like to check circulation stats for fun.

haphazard, it really does make me sad. these kids not only deserve but NEED so much better.

craig, no penitential shirt patterns. and no oldness is not the only criteria because there are a great many classics. that said, those classics, unless they are some rare old book, ought to be presented in a manner that is appealing and not in some dusty, musty old thing with worn edges and yellowed pages.

suldog, that is exactly correct. i had a student today ask for a magic schoolbus book. we have quite a few. most of them are old, hard cover, library bound editions, which is great. they are older but still in decent shape on the inside...the outside, however, is all faded and hard to make out the titles. the first grader declined when he saw the book simply because it was kind of ugly looking. unfortunately, that's the way it is a lot of times. and that's a book still good on the inside, relevant and interesting....now imagine all this crap i just pulled off the shelf....terrible.

Craig said...

Just please promise me that when you get to the fiction books, you'll keep Huckleberry Finn. . .

lime said...

craig, as long as it's in physically good condition, yes. and to clarify, the language in that i take no issue with. it is a work of fiction reflective of the setting in which it takes place and in which it was written. non-fiction works, however, need to be current.

Hilary said...

Wow.. some of these are shockers. I can remember my kids' school tossing a couple of OJ Simpson books at the time of the trial. Good work on the weeding.

Secret Agent Woman said...

That sounds kind of fun to me. But I'm here to tell you that my older son would love that electronic games book. He's deeply envious of my teenage days of playing Pong, has an old Atari set and loves retro games.

And also, I will now use "I was born during the Kennedy Administration" as my new way of signifying my elderliness.

Bijoux said...

Agent - lets just say we were born during Camelot!

coopernicus said...

now what am i going to do with all this burlap????

Logophile said...

Good job on the weeding. It is sometimes hard to part with books but...that being said, I think the ones you parted with were not really very heart-breaking.

G-Man said...

Trini...
Please save the burlap book.
It looks like really great reading!!!

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