The Books We Give Away

I’ve recently expanded the list of periodicals that I read for book-related news (really mostly reviews of new book releases) to include the Salon Book section. To mark the occasion (vanity upon vanity), may I present to you a (manually) reblogged article from Salon on the topic of weeding one’s personal book collection

The other day, as the weather warmed and my thoughts turned to spring cleaning, I took a deep sigh and braced myself to weed my bookshelves for another year. I like that word, weeding, to describe the culling of books no longer wanted from a personal library. It reminds me that books, like an errant patch of clover or a winding strand of jasmine, are wily things with lives all their own.

Read the rest of this lyrical article here.

Weeding is a complicated topic for librarians (as so many things book-related are). It is an activity that must be done carefully, lest one upsets library patrons and prompt them to charge libraries with assault. More than that, it is an activity that is difficult to motivate librarians to do, for many librarians — like other paper lovers — loath to get rid of items. By both natural inclinations and professional remuneration, the librarian has every incentive to conjure up potential future uses for now-useless books.

On the professional side, the librarian knows that in discarding a book, he runs some (however infinitesimally small) risk of reducing the availability of material that a patron, somewhere, somehow, at some indefinite time in the future, with some undefined urgency, may want. He knows that should this ever come to pass, he is open to much more censure than he would be for keeping an outdated, as-certain-to-be-useless-as-probabilities-would-allow book on the shelves or for sending that same useless book to crowd for a place in the compact storage facilities. Thus, he errs on the side of caution and weeds too little. Erring on the side of caution is, after all, an error, but one that the professional librarian has no incentive for correcting.

On the side of personal considerations, the librarian, like any person that accumulates a collection, is attached to the collection for reasons beyond utility to the users. Tasked with weeding, he will “inevitably wonder if he’s weeding too much” and thus will bear too light of the touch on the materials. I would not be surprised that librarians are among readers who, in their personal lives, are prone to hoarding old, never-read, never-to-be-read books on their shelves.

After casting my colleagues in such a light, I will now admit that I am the most incorrigible hoarder among their ranks. Or rather, I would be except for the fact that I own few of the books that I read. I’m an incessant browser of the library stacks and a heavy user of the library munificent collections, but I own few books and read even fewer the books that I own. I am, if you will, immune to such hoarding impulses because I know that I can live off the hoards of others.

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