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Dumpsters Full of Books
September 10, 2013 5:22 AM   Subscribe

Hearing complaints that the Fairfax County Public Library was throwing away tons of books, County Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence) decided to peer into a Dumpster. Twice, she found stacks and stacks of high-quality books, bought by the taxpayers, piled in the trash. The second time, she filled a box. The discarded books have opened a broader discussion about the library’s long-term plan, which would eliminate the requirement for fully trained librarians, reduce branch staff and cut the amount of time children’s librarians spend helping families inside their libraries.

Clay, who has been head of the Fairfax library system for 31 years, defended his plan as necessary to deal with declining budgets and to remake libraries in the digital age. The strategic plan lists the first part of its “future direction” as transitioning from “a print environment to a digital environment.”
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons (173 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
[Quietly counting to 10 so I can suppress my rage before posting]
posted by kuanes at 5:27 AM on September 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


*whimper*
posted by tilde at 5:29 AM on September 10, 2013


So Smyth did her own investigation. Among the items she found consigned to the trash were a pristine 2010 Fodor’s guide to Mexico, some large, good-quality art and gardening books, and “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

“Maybe this is a good thing,” the supervisor said as she surveyed her rescued cache, “because we finally have people’s attention to talk about the future of libraries.”


Maybe it is a good thing. There are a small group of people who REALLY care about libraries, and then the rest of the population doesn't give a shit and hasn't visited a library in years.

So yeah, maybe some changes are necessary so that libraries are utilized by a greater part of the population.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:33 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Did she happen to provide any maps or schedules to where --hypothetically-- someone who lives just across the river from there could drive over and fill up boxes with said books and find them good homes?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:34 AM on September 10, 2013 [27 favorites]


And here I am pondering the career switch from academic libraries to public libraries.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:36 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


For crying out loud, instead of lending them the library could just give the books away. Simply dumping new or nearly new books in the trash is a shameful waste of resources.
posted by Gelatin at 5:40 AM on September 10, 2013 [21 favorites]


Quietly counting to 10 so I can suppress my rage before posting

Me too, but I think in different directions. Me, I'm pissed at all the folks who continually second-guess the culling that's necessary in any healthy library.* Oh noes, throwing away an out of date Fodors that's pristine because nobody used it! And I'm pissed at the people of Fairfax for directly or indirectly approving a string of budget cuts on their libraries but then magically expecting that to have no consequences at all.

*What is it about anything even tangentially tied to education that makes everyone and their fucking brother such a goddam expert on how they should be run?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:41 AM on September 10, 2013 [80 favorites]


Not to be obtuse, but what is going on in the USA that sees people avoid libraries? In Australia, everyone I know with kids goes to libraries all the time, although I admit most employed childless adults usually head to the bookshop instead.
Is the 'death of libraries' thing real, or just because there are more mefis who go to the bookshop than the library?
posted by bystander at 5:42 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Culling is something that libraries do. Sometimes they cull books you think would be useful, but which nobody was using... and it becomes difficult to continue holding useful books on the off chance that somebody, someday, might have a use for it.

It seems a little questionable that they're dumping the books rather than selling them, but without knowing more I'm not gonna second-guess that either.

Either fund your libraries sufficiently so that they can continue expanding the library to provide the services you expect and store the books that will continue to accumulate without culling, or be responsible for the compromises you've forced them to make. Libraries can't work for free.
posted by ardgedee at 5:47 AM on September 10, 2013 [17 favorites]


I think I've talked about it before here, but in college I had a friend that had come to America from Ceaușescu's Romania. I asked him what had been the biggest shock to him, the stores? the cars? He said no, he had expected the capitalism, the big shock was the library. In his hometown the library consisted of one shelf of approved Marxist literature and everyone in town had read every single book on the shelf. Here, the library is filled to the ceilings with row after row of books about anything and everything and the place is almost completely devoid of people.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:48 AM on September 10, 2013 [70 favorites]


I'm pissed at all the folks who continually second-guess the culling that's necessary in any healthy library.

Of course it is, but that doesn't mean sending books directly to a landfill (not even recycling the paper, for crying out loud!). According to the article, the library didn't pass the books along to their support organization for reselling or even donate them. And while I might agree that an old Fodors guide might be a decent candidate for the recycle bin, the accompanying photo showed a discarded copy of what appears to be one of the Game of Thrones books among others, which I suspect someone out there might take an interest in.

My own local branch has a cart that sells some discarded books, and the system hosts several popular book sales several times a year.

The article also points out that "In the past five years, the libraries’ budget has been cut by 23 percent and library visits have declined about 10 percent. Circulation is down about 6 percent over that time." It would appear that the problem isn't lack of demand but rather a shameful lack of public support, and if memory serves me correctly, Fairfax county isn't exactly poor.
posted by Gelatin at 5:49 AM on September 10, 2013 [20 favorites]


It seems a little questionable that they're dumping the books rather than selling them, but without knowing more I'm not gonna second-guess that either.

No recycling? No storing for a future book sale? No donating to another local organization for a book sale? No "take them, they're free" table?

Simply dumping new or nearly new books in the trash is a shameful waste of resources. QFT.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:50 AM on September 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


The public library I go to in Wilmington is quite busy. One day I arrived 10 minutes before it opened and was amazed to find a line of people waiting to get in.
posted by interplanetjanet at 5:50 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is the Fairfax County Public Library a Tardis?
posted by GPF at 5:51 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


When the program was launched last October, volunteer Friends of the Library groups were no longer allowed to review discards.

Why did 31-year library director Sam Clay make that decision?

As books began disappearing from the shelves, Tresa Schlecht of the Friends of Tysons-Pimmit branch and others pleaded with library administrators to allow the Friends to rescue books, their e-mails show.

Why did 31-year library director Sam Clay not allow the Friends branches to rescue books?

Clay and Rhodes said that books were provided to Friends groups again starting in May, and a county fact sheet said 3,000 discards have been provided. But at a rate of 20,000 per month, another 77,000 items would have been trashed in that same period. Schlecht and others were stunned that so many books were still headed to the landfill.

Why is 31-year library director Sam Clay still only allowing the Friends to rescue such a small number of books from the discards? What's the rush to discard?

And why the heck didn't Washington Post reporter Tom Jackman directly ask 31-year library director Sam Clay these questions?
posted by mediareport at 5:52 AM on September 10, 2013 [55 favorites]


In some of the smaller towns I've drive through recently I've noticed a trend to have a small, unheated shed labeled "Free Library" which is always left open and is loaded with shelves of books. People are encouraged to help themselves and, if so moved, contribute volumes. These seem to be actively used and struck me as a great way of getting books back into the hands of those who might read them.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:52 AM on September 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


Or burn them for kindling. ; )
posted by spitbull at 5:53 AM on September 10, 2013


(Not a Kindle pun.)
posted by spitbull at 5:54 AM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Me, I'm pissed at all the folks who continually second-guess the culling that's necessary in any healthy library.

Growing up, the local library had "book sale" shelves to re-home books they didn't want or need for their collection anymore. I picked up a giant stack of "Laser Books" for .25 each when I was 12, over the course of a few weeks, and then went to town when they threw the "Buck a Bag" weekend sale to clear out the shelves for a new batch of culled books. They had to have squeezed $8 out of me, which was enough to cover the cost of two new paperbacks or one new softbound book at the time, and in return, I got months and months of nerd bliss. In college, I picked up a few "obsolete" books on microchip design - because they were so old, I was able to follow along with what the computer was doing at the lowest level without much abstraction. It gave me months and months of nerd pleasure, and laid down a career path I'm still on.

You think they should have just dumpstered them on the quiet instead?
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:58 AM on September 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


Is the 'death of libraries' thing real, or just because there are more mefis who go to the bookshop than the library?

It's the aritocritzation of Fairfax County. Libraries are for poors (read: middle class) and kids.
posted by fontophilic at 6:02 AM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Among the items she found consigned to the trash were a pristine 2010 Fodor’s guide to Mexico

Not all the discarded books were current editions, then. Certain reference items, particularly geographic guides, need to be updated. Could the library have disposed of the titles by way of a community sale? A local system in my area was able to part out its Windows for Workgroups 3.11 reference guides in this manner. The Fairfax County Public Library sounds like it's struggling to continue functioning, but its book disposal method isn't simply out of sabotage nor disinterest.
posted by Smart Dalek at 6:04 AM on September 10, 2013


And why the heck didn't Washington Post reporter Tom Jackman directly ask 31-year library director Sam Clay these questions?

I'd like that perspective as well; there might well be a good reason for this. It's easy to get alarmed because you see books in a dumpster, but the library is being run by professionals who no doubt have a reason for what they're doing. Maybe that reason is wrong, but I can't judge their reasons until I know them.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:05 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


> One day I arrived 10 minutes before it opened and was amazed to find a line of people waiting to get in.

If it's anything like my library, they're waiting for a table and access to free wi-fi.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:05 AM on September 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


There's enough information here to make everybody mad, but not enough to make anybody right.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:05 AM on September 10, 2013 [14 favorites]


I refuse to be outraged. If anybody has any other more comprehensive material then I might be. Sounds like political posturing to me.
posted by BenPens at 6:07 AM on September 10, 2013


From the article: "no books were given to the Friends of the Library for seven months this year"

This is where I put in my plug for volunteerism. Where I live, the Friends of the various libraries in the system tend to be older, and have some time to give to evaluate, sort, and store donations/discards for book sales. However, there aren't many of these volunteers, and, as the youngest volunteer in the room over the last 10 years (with the exception of a few high school kids, fulfilling requirements), I worry like hell about their energy levels and endurance and fragility. They can only do so much, and moving books is heavy work. Throw in any potential politics between volunteers, coordinators, and librarians...and already tired and frustrated unpaid labor often leaves.

If you are outraged by this article, if you believe in the power of books -- even culled and discarded volumes -- to provide value for somebody, then go join your local library Friends, or at least give a few hours to book sale set-up and tear-down. This has been your call to service. Thank you.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:08 AM on September 10, 2013 [33 favorites]


Not to be obtuse, but what is going on in the USA that sees people avoid libraries?

They tend to be one of the few public places that allow the homeless or otherwise marginal to stay inside during the day. Also, when they're big and underfunded (like the main Washington, DC library was until very recently), they have a really decrepit feel--buckets on the floors under strange (non-rain) leaks, etc. As a middle-class library user, I got stares from my friends when I talked about going there.
posted by psoas at 6:10 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I feel like it's not just about culling, though - I think there's been a change in the theory of how books should be shelved. Between when I left for college (and thus was using academic libraries, which are quite different) and when I returned to using the public library (maybe eight years due to travel and some grad work), I felt like there'd been a shift from "let's put lots of books on the shelves for browsing even though the shelves will be full" and "let's have a small, carefully curated selection of books on the shelf with lots of empty space". In the downtown public library here, for instance, there are many shelves where almost half the space is empty - and I can't believe that even shelves about obscurer subjects have half the books checked out consistently. I feel like the emphasis has shifted from "let's give people a broad choice of books and assume that they will sift among them; let's assume that some "outdated" books are still useful and worthwhile to the occasional reader" to "let's provide a focused collection of the most popular books and the classics in the field, assume a lot of churn and get rid of things very quickly".

I'm not saying that everyone needs to hold onto a 2010 Fodor's, or that there is no place for culling - I've done a couple of culls at the volunteer-run library space where I sometimes volunteer and I know it's a drag and I know you end up having to cull some really good books - but I think the library philosophy now is much more toward curating and culling than it was twenty years ago.
posted by Frowner at 6:10 AM on September 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


In some of the smaller towns I've drive through recently I've noticed a trend to have a small, unheated shed labeled "Free Library" which is always left open and is loaded with shelves of books. People are encouraged to help themselves and, if so moved, contribute volumes. These seem to be actively used and struck me as a great way of getting books back into the hands of those who might read them.

This seems to be an appropriate time to drop in a plug for paperbackswap.com where you swap the books on your shelf for the ones on other people's in order to work through the fact that your wife/husband/SO/landlord/local housing codes/cats won't let you bring any new books into the house until you take some out.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:12 AM on September 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'd like that perspective as well; there might well be a good reason for this.

Library director Clay was quoted in the article and didn't really offer a good reason for not providing books for a books sale over the past seven months. As I noted above, the library's budget has been cut much more than its attendance and circulation have declined, so clearly lack of demand isn't the problem; lack of funding is.
posted by Gelatin at 6:13 AM on September 10, 2013


If you are outraged by this article, if you believe in the power of books -- even culled and discarded volumes -- to provide value for somebody, then go join your local library Friends, or at least give a few hours to book sale set-up and tear-down. This has been your call to service. Thank you.

Or if you do not have that sort of time, just go to your library, pick out your five favorite books, check them out, and then promptly return them. You can even offer to reshelve them yourself.

This will have the benefit of keeping those books from being weeded due to low circulation, signal to collection development that people are interested in books like the ones you borrowed, and raise the library's total borrowing stats which is something that folks look at come budget time.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:14 AM on September 10, 2013 [17 favorites]


Libraries can be mismanaged just as any other organization can, but:

According to the article, the library didn't pass the books along to their support organization for reselling or even donate them.

Maybe. I wouldn't be particularly shocked to find that their Friends of the Library actually consumed more resources in staff time and space than it brought back to the library.

And while I might agree that an old Fodors guide might be a decent candidate for the recycle bin, the accompanying photo showed a discarded copy of what appears to be one of the Game of Thrones books among others, which I suspect someone out there might take an interest in.

Maybe. My first assumption would be that it was discarded for a reason, either because it wasn't being checked out any more after the initial burst of requests or because it was in bad enough shape to be expected to be unusable soon.

No recycling?

Dunno what recycling is available in Fairfax. If someone would just take them from the dumpster to recycle them at no cost, then, sure it would probably have been better to do that. But otherwise, it was gonna cost money.

No storing for a future book sale?

Costs money.

No donating to another local organization for a book sale?

Interfacing and planning costs staff time. Which is money.

No "take them, they're free" table?

Costs space and staff time. = money. And I have to expect that a table of stuff bought by the hard-working, ever-oppressed taxpayers of Fairfax County being given away for free would cause similar howls of outrage.

They had to have squeezed $8 out of me, which was enough to cover the cost of two new paperbacks or one new softbound book at the time

The total cost of ownership of a book is going to be well over its cover price.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:16 AM on September 10, 2013 [15 favorites]


the library is being run by professionals who no doubt have a reason for what they're doing

Or it's being run by someone who's been in the job too long and is frantically trying to understand the new world of libraries and is in over his head. Hey, it happens.

But seriously, in 2012 our county library made over $170,000 during its 4-day annual book sale. Last year it made $130,000, with an additional $30,000 earned throughout the year by contracting with dealers to sell the better books online. Other libraries have stores set up in a corner office or something and sell books daily.

31-year library director Sam Clay is quite literally throwing money away while simultaneously complaining about how budget cuts are hurting his libraries. It's very difficult to think of him as a professional who knows what he's doing here.
posted by mediareport at 6:16 AM on September 10, 2013 [29 favorites]


They tend to be one of the few public places that allow the homeless or otherwise marginal to stay inside during the day. Also, when they're big and underfunded (like the main Washington, DC library was until very recently), they have a really decrepit feel--buckets on the floors under strange (non-rain) leaks, etc. As a middle-class library user, I got stares from my friends when I talked about going there.

The truth is, I rarely go to the public library. Unlike the library where I grew up - in a very ordinary suburb of Chicago in the eighties - the main library here doesn't have much that I want on the shelves because it's all pop and recent and the library itself is incredibly noisy. There are huge banks of computers, people chat because they're on the computer, the library is designed poorly so it echoes a lot, kids run around the whole place and there isn't a dedicated reading room. (Like, I'd be cool with the rest of the place being loud if they had one well-insulated room where being quiet was actually enforced.) They actually had a reading room like this in the otherwise already quiet library of my childhood.

At the same time, I really like how it's a public space. I think it's really sad that there can't be both a book-oriented and quieter public library and [attached, maybe] a community center with all the things that the library is pushed to provide now. We just had a horrible heat wave, for instance, and I had to stop at the library for something minor - and it was fun and lively to see all the folks, and it was very clear what an incredible benefit it was to have a free, comfortable, clean place to go that was air conditioned.
posted by Frowner at 6:16 AM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Copies of Fodor's 2010 Mexico are available for on Amazon.
posted by fairmettle at 6:16 AM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm normally not one for snark, but lately...

shameful waste of resources

Should be on our money instead of 'in god we trust'
posted by Fuka at 6:17 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


If it's anything like my library, they're waiting for a table and access to free wi-fi.

every once and a while i re-read this awesome comment by codacorolla about how libraries are the only option for a lot of people in dealing with an increasingly digital world.
posted by nadawi at 6:18 AM on September 10, 2013 [15 favorites]


An efficiency and cost-saving measure instituted by Clay last fall was the “floating collection,” in which no book or other item is assigned permanently to a branch. It stays where it is returned, vastly reducing the cost and wear of shipping books back to their original branch.

So I'm curious about this part of the story - in what ways is a "floating collection" actually more effective? In what ways is it less effective?
posted by dubold at 6:21 AM on September 10, 2013


As we all know, a large enough collecting of books generates tremendous amounts of magic charge. Without funding for a safety-rated octiron conduction system to handle the thaumic discharges, the safest way to maintain a non-reality warping environment is to dump the excess books. It's all very well complaining about the waste, but no-one wants to round the end of the History (Ancient) section and get trapped in L-space.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:21 AM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Maybe it is a good thing. There are a small group of people who REALLY care about libraries, and then the rest of the population doesn't give a shit and hasn't visited a library in years.

From the 2013 Pew Research studies Younger Americans' Library Habits and Expectations and Library Services in the Digital Age:

* Younger Americans . . . exhibit a fascinating mix of habits and preferences when it comes to reading, libraries, and technology. Almost all Americans under age 30 are online, and they are more likely than older patrons to use libraries’ computer and internet connections; however, they are also still closely bound to print, as three-quarters (75%) of younger Americans say they have read at least one book in print in the past year, compared with 64% of adults ages 30 and older. . . . Americans under age 30 are just as likely as older adults to visit the library, and once there they borrow print books and browse the shelves at similar rates. Large majorities of those under age 30 say it is “very important” for libraries to have librarians as well as books for borrowing, and relatively few think that libraries should automate most library services, move most services online, or move print books out of public areas.

* In the past 12 months, 53% of Americans ages 16 and older visited a library or bookmobile; 25% visited a library website; and 13% used a handheld device such as a smartphone or tablet computer to access a library website. All told, 59% of Americans ages 16 and older had at least one of those kinds of interactions with their public library in the past 12 months. Throughout this report we call them “recent library users” and some of our analysis is based on what they do at libraries and library websites. Overall, 52% of recent library users say their use of the library in the past five years has not changed to any great extent. At the same time, 26% of recent library users say their library use has increased and 22% say their use has decreased.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:26 AM on September 10, 2013 [16 favorites]


We simply could not have homeschooled our kids without the local public library. We were there at least weekly, and a good percentage of the books we used in our kids education were checked out from the library. We have a ridiculous number of books in our house, but I shudder to the think of the expense if we had bought every book we ever needed or wanted.

Now that the kids are in college we don't use the library as much, although both kids did visit multiple times over the summer to stock up on pleasure reading alternatives. However, this post has motivated me to look into volunteer opportunities at the library. Given how much value we got from it over the last 12 years, it's time for me to pay some of that back.
posted by COD at 6:26 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Copies of Fodor's 2010 Mexico are available for 2¢ on Amazon.

Yeah, plus $4 shipping. Sure, travel guides drop in value quickly as each new year's edition come out, and a 3-year-old travel guide is hardly the best example of a valuable book being tossed in the trash (which is why you want book-knowledgeable people like the Friends of the Library, not government officials, looking at them before you throw them away).

But, fairmettle, there's a very good chance Fairfax could have sold that travel guide for a dollar at a library sale. If even 1/4 of the books could be sold for $1 - and some will almost certainly be sellable for more - then that's $5,000 a month Sam Clay is tossing in the dumpster because.....why, again? He himself doesn't want to take the time to LET OTHER PEOPLE organize a library sale?

Seriously, Sam Clay has his head up his ass on this one.
posted by mediareport at 6:28 AM on September 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


About the free wifi, yes it's true many of them are there for the free wifi. And the public computers which are always busy. And to check out free DVDs! But the people in front of me in the check out line do have books sometimes.

I also wish my library had more books on the shelves. It's new and they didn't actually put in that much shelf space when they built it. But I just order whatever I want online (they can get any book owned by any public library in the county) and then go pick them up.
posted by interplanetjanet at 6:28 AM on September 10, 2013


No "take them, they're free" table?

Costs space and staff time. = money. And I have to expect that a table of stuff bought by the hard-working, ever-oppressed taxpayers of Fairfax County being given away for free would cause similar howls of outrage.


Setting a box of books beside a dumpster under a sign that says "FREE" takes more time than setting the same box in the dumpster?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:29 AM on September 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


Is the 'death of libraries' thing real, or just because there are more mefis who go to the bookshop than the library?

No - it is a right-wing talking point intended to make defunding and closing libraries easier to accomplish.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:29 AM on September 10, 2013 [14 favorites]


So I'm curious about this part of the story - in what ways is a "floating collection" actually more effective? In what ways is it less effective?

More effective in that a book ordered from another library in the system does not need to be returned to said library. It goes onto the shelf in the library of the requester. This saves money on delivery costs and staff cost to unpack the crates/reshelve. More effective in that you can buy two books to service ten libraries rather than one for each.

Less effective in that it would take more time to get access to a given book if it's not currently at your library. Less effective in that you need lower fill rates (more empty shelf space) to accommodate the floating collection (otherwise if your local elementary school has a bunch of reports on whales due and everyone requests every whale book floating in the system, there won't be enough space to reshelve all the floating whale books when the projects are done).

I suspect that the large number of discards was to remove extra copies of materials in the floating collection in order to make space. I actually think the idea of a floating collection is a neat idea (Harvard does something similar with its Depository), but I'm not sure it's the best idea for a large number of public libraries. Maybe set up smaller groups of libraries (3-4) within the system to each share their own floats.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:31 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I bet a used book store would have been happy to pick up 250,000 books for free.
posted by pracowity at 6:37 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


a discarded copy of what appears to be one of the Game of Thrones books

Mega popular books can be as disposable as unpopular ones because so many are in circulation. In the 90s I tried to sell some Tom Clancy hardcovers to a used bookstore, and was told "we can't give those away."

re-home books

They're inanimate objects, not puppies who will look at you with sad, wet eyes as you put them in the dumpster.
posted by fatbird at 6:38 AM on September 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


A couple of years ago my basement had basically become a firetrap, in no small part because I get sent anywhere from ten to forty books/ARCs a week from publishers (mostly science fiction and fantasy, as that's my line of work) and there was almost no room left to move down there.

The first thing I did was donate as many books as I could to the local library, for their shelves and for their book sales. Then I invited friends to come in and take any books they wanted. Then I donated to charity.

And at the end of it I still had more books than I knew what to do with, that neither I nor anyone else wanted anymore. And those went into the industrial-sized dumpster that we rented, along with everything else neither we nor anyone else wanted or needed (before you ask: For whatever reason, local recycler wouldn't take books. No, it didn't make sense to me either).

This was pretty difficult for me because, you know, books. We are (or at least I am) trained to think of them as sacred objects. But at the end of the day sometimes they're simply not useful or wanted and then out into the trash they go.

This is not to suggest that the library director did everything he could have to give the books he was getting rid of a new home; perhaps he had not. But I suspect that even if he had, at the end of it all, there would still be books -- a whole lot of books -- in the trash.
posted by jscalzi at 6:39 AM on September 10, 2013 [24 favorites]


but I think the library philosophy now is much more toward curating and culling than it was twenty years ago.

Follow the funding patterns for public libraries--and the decline in intellectual culture that allowed it--over the past 30+ years, and the correlation will come into sharp focus.
posted by Rykey at 6:40 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Books are not people, and do not suffer when they burn. There's no censorship here. Ideas are not being destroyed. It's just bits of dead trees being returned back to the earth.

Someday libraries will not have physical books at all any more. Probably sooner than we think.
posted by empath at 6:45 AM on September 10, 2013


Honestly I'm way more outraged about this:
Clay has proposed hiring librarians who may not have master’s degrees to run branches, hiring people without bachelor’s degrees to staff the libraries, and having children’s librarians spend 80 percent of their time devising and running outreach programs instead of working in the libraries.
I'm sorry, but eviscerating the professional staff of the library system will be far more damaging than throwing out a copy of Game of Thrones.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:46 AM on September 10, 2013 [26 favorites]


And why the heck didn't Washington Post reporter Tom Jackman directly ask 31-year library director Sam Clay these questions?

Yeah I really wish this whole "This lousy thing happened" story could have turned into something where people learned about how libraries work (yes, people weed, this is okay) and how their support structures work (this is how friends of the library booksales operate and why they often offer essential services for libraries that they can't otherwise afford) and sometimes the stupid laws libraries have to work within (at University of Washington they had to dumpster weeded books because the books were state property and could not be sold, my guess is there might have been a way to work with this but the truth is a lot of books were put in the dumpster which is why I have a full OED set) so we could all learn some things. Instead we get these hatchet pieces that seem in some ways designed to have people reflect "See? Libraries are just as bad as you thought they were and you're totally justified in not going to them or funding them"

There are definitely some bad library directors out there and some who are not really responding well to the shift in the library environment. I'd really like to know more about this. It's super easy to second guess the things your public officials do, it's like a national pastime in the US. It's hard to work for the public.
posted by jessamyn at 6:48 AM on September 10, 2013 [34 favorites]


I bet a used book store would have been happy to pick up 250,000 books for free.

That bet may or may not pay off.

In this case the books have been culled by trained librarians, so they are likely to be far down on the lower end of the re-sale value market.

I have participated in some large charity used book sales, and even with the possibility of having actual good books or valuable books donated from private collections, the scale of labor required to move and sort 250,000 books made the already minuscule profits from such events seem even tinier. In the end, I proposed that anyone who wanted to run a charity used book event should simply get a part-time minimum wage job and donate the proceeds to charity. The cost-benefit ratio of the volunteer's time to amount of money donated would be significantly higher.
posted by fairmettle at 6:52 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


My daughter grew up in Fairfax County, and we spent just about every Wednesday evening of her school career going to either the Thomas Jefferson or Fairfax City library for homework.

These places have turned into de facto community centers, with language classes, troubled youth meetings, and, yes, computer access. Fairfax City does a pretty good job of keeping the noise down, but Thomas Jefferson is a buzzing hub of activity. Hell, I got a cat there. There is a large selection of foreign-language books (and magazines and comics) and books on CD. It's serving a different purpose than the library of my youth, and that's fine, really.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:53 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm going to put in a plug here for Better World Books (disclosure: a friend used to work there), which will pay shipping on bulk books, sell them online from a warehouse in Indiana, and donate 100% of their net to literacy programs.

From a library's perspective, this is as easy as throwing them away.
posted by gauche at 6:54 AM on September 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


They're inanimate objects, not puppies who will look at you with sad, wet eyes as you put them in the dumpster.

Right, that's why you put the puppies in a gunny sack first, but the books, they gnaw at your soul when you think about them out there in the elements.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:56 AM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Vaguely relevant to the discussion: Charity shops stuck with thousands of copies of 50 Shades of Grey

Oh, and this makes a bit of a sense re: why my local recycler didn't want books: Apparently the glue used for the books is a problem.
posted by jscalzi at 6:56 AM on September 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


Not to be obtuse, but what is going on in the USA that sees people avoid libraries?

Maybe I'm atypical (as a member of metafilter, the odds are in favor) but the way I now use the library is very different than it was when I was a kid, largely because of digital media.

For instance: my son was sent home at the end of the last school year with a list of 40 "suggested" titles for summer reading. So, one evening, I sat down with our library website, made a custom wish list, and started 'ordering' books, about ten at a time. I'd request the books we wanted, which the library then gathered together from it's assorted branches (our city library has 9 branches total) and held for me at the desk of my local branch. Then, on my lunch hour, I stopped in, dropped off our last batch, and got our new batch. Every week or so we'd repeat the process.

I have spent more than an hour in our library precisely three times in the past year. Once was a rainy vacation day when my son and I hung out in the children's section (and he used the computer the whole time) and the other two times were to see art exhibits in the library's community gallery (including the current Sendak exhibit).

As of this morning, we have 35 items on loan, including two audio books, two movies, and six inter-library loan items.

Just because we're not browsing, in other words, doesn't mean we're avoiding the library.
posted by anastasiav at 6:57 AM on September 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


Is the 'death of libraries' thing real, or just because there are more mefis who go to the bookshop than the library?

No - it is a right-wing talking point intended to make defunding and closing libraries easier to accomplish.


It's working in places like my old library system. I left there for career-move reasons a few years ago, and it hurts my heart to see what my old colleagues are dealing with.
posted by Rykey at 6:59 AM on September 10, 2013


> I'm sorry, but eviscerating the professional staff of the library system will be far more damaging than throwing out a copy of Game of Thrones.

Yeah, but think of the savings! And when it results in lower circulation and fewer visits, you can cut even more in the next budget! Thus is the mindset of the public library administrator.

I'm sorry, I'm just not in the mood to feign optimism about the future of public libraries today. I work in what is, relatively-speaking, a healthily-funded and well-used library system, and even we're continually under threat of cuts by cost-cutting politicians and managers whose five-year plans invariably include plans to reduce the number of staff and books (my branch is as we speak being renovated to install an automated book sorter and self checkout kiosks, and reduce the amount of print book shelving). When the renovations are completed, a large part of my job will consist of teaching patrons how to use these machines. There is little or no new hiring being done.

This is why public libraries are turning into community centres; we're definitely filling a need in that regard, and that's great. The problem, from a librarian's standpoint, is that as the library's priorities move farther and farther away from books and literacy, it will become easier and easier for managers to ask themselves "Do we really need to waste money on someone with a Master's degree for this job?"
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:00 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


In this case the books have been culled by trained librarians, so they are likely to be far down on the lower end of the re-sale value market.

And yet still sellable. Again, the point here is that the top officials at the Fairfax library system are not even *attempting* a system that already works to bring in hundeds of thousands of dollars a year to other systems. Yes, there are lots of worthless popular hardbacks at every library sale. At the end of our county's sale, a company comes and picks up the massive trove of junky leftovers - at no cost to the library - and then sends the library regular checks for the ones it sells, and pulps the rest. How is that not better than the dumping Fairfax is doing?

Again, this is a no-brainer. We can argue minor points like "Do books actually have feelings that can be hurt?" or whatever, and it's clear some culling is always going to be part of good library science. But what's happening in Fairfax - the rushed dumping of books that almost certainly still have value - is incredibly, stupidly wasteful, particularly so in the current library budget environment, and Sam Clay and the people he supervises need to be held accountable for that.
posted by mediareport at 7:01 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


My mother is the (part-time) head librarian of a town library in a tiny New England town. She's to the point where she doesn't want book donations, because she already has more books in their bookstore downstairs than they can deal with. They aren't selling at a pittance (IIRC, something like $0.25/paperback & $1.00/hardcover) and are, she feels, more trouble than they are worth. She has a lot of other programs going on that her Friends-of-the-Library group helps out with, so she doesn't even have the spare volunteer time to put into book sales.

I'm an avowed lover of books. Always have been. Our apartment is up to the gills in books. The house I grew up in didn't have walls: it just had bookshelves. I'm even more a lover of used books and used bookstores. But I'm coming around to the belief that any particular given used book may not be valuable enough to save.* I want to save them all. But I'm just not sure that's realistic or feasible.

* not a techno-utopian: I hate e-books and e-readers so, so much. But it seems like a lot of printed books, you couldn't even give away for free.
posted by gauche at 7:05 AM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


it seems like a lot of printed books, you couldn't even give away for free

And when the contents of a book aren't worth the paper it's printed on you recycle the paper it's printed on. This seems a lot more responsible (not to mention potentially economical) than landfilling them.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:09 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


According to the article, the library didn't pass the books along to their support organization for reselling or even donate them.

I have worked in academic libraries where this was basically impossible because of rules put in place to prevent "alienating" public resources. Selling or giving away books was so onerous in therms of regulation that it would have cost us money in people-time that we did not have. Now the universities recycle enough that we had some more effective "outs" (as well as sharing within the system), but it's not as easy and cheap as people imagine.

Remember -- a library is almost never a free organisation. They answer to a lot of other groups, all of whom have many other concerns. So the problems with your local library likely begin with the officials locals have elected.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:09 AM on September 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


But I'm coming around to the belief that any particular given used book may not be valuable enough to save.

Sure, gauche, there's a final end to many books. The first thing I have to do when I get to work this morning is load up a van of books that haven't sold off our dime and quarter shelves and drive them to a local recycling center. If your mom's library isn't getting sellable books as donations, then shutting down the sale and sending donors to recycling centers* seems a worthwhile solution. But that's not the situation we're talking about here. Fairfax is consistently culling books from the collection and dumping them without even attempting to recycle or sell them. At least your mom's tried.

*or used book stores, of course
posted by mediareport at 7:17 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


And yet still sellable. Again, the point here is that the top officials at the Fairfax library system are not even *attempting* a system that already works to bring in hundeds of thousands of dollars a year to other systems.

If you look at the pages for the various "Friends of" organizations that support the Fairfax library system, it seems like they generally do have book sales, and the article makes it clear that donation is normally something that happens. It didn't happen for these specific books that were recently culled, and I agree that that's something I would like explained, but it's not like Fairfax County is totally unwilling to conduct booksales ever.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:17 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, gauche, Fairfax has volunteers with time on their hands who are literally begging to be allowed to save these books.
posted by mediareport at 7:19 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


When I was doing social work, one of the number one places I took my clients was to the library. That includes the client I nicknamed "Mr. Stench", who probably gave bedbugs to three local libraries. Asshole waited four weeks to tell me that his house and he were badly infested.

So these days, I make my visits short, inspect the books I check out, and I don't sit down, because when you sit in a library chair, you're sitting with anyone who ever used that chair.
posted by happyroach at 7:24 AM on September 10, 2013


We had a long bedbug/library thread here last year, happyroach.
posted by mediareport at 7:27 AM on September 10, 2013


The problem, from a librarian's standpoint, is that as the library's priorities move farther and farther away from books and literacy, it will become easier and easier for managers to ask themselves "Do we really need to waste money on someone with a Master's degree for this job?"

From the same Pew report that ryanshepard linked to above (beat me to it!):
Asked for their thoughts on which services libraries should offer to the public, majorities of Americans are strongly in favor of:

-Coordinating more closely with local schools: 85% of Americans ages 16 and older say libraries should “definitely” do this.
-Offering free literacy programs to help young children: 82% of Americans ages 16 and older say libraries should “definitely do” this.
In addition, in their survey they found:
-80% of Americans say borrowing books is a “very important” service libraries provide.
-80% say reference librarians are a “very important” service of libraries.
-77% say free access to computers and the internet is a “very important” service of libraries.
So it's not books OR computers, it's books AND computers. And literacy training (traditional and digital) is only going to become a more important function of libraries not less. And you need qualified, trained professionals to provide these services.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:28 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and the Fairfax City library does, indeed, have a giveaway cart, right next to the elevator to the parking deck. I think they're doing the best they can with limited resources.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:28 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, except for the part where we don't know why Sam Clay stopped, and then restarted only in a limited way, allowing volunteers to sort through the books before tossing them in the dumpster.
posted by mediareport at 7:41 AM on September 10, 2013


We dont know it was a dumpster either. I would be very amused to discover it was the chosen method of transport for the library partner recycling outlined earlier.
posted by BenPens at 7:44 AM on September 10, 2013


Maybe we're a little odd, but ms scruss beetled off to be at Pape/Danforth library for opening so she could take pictures of the interior. Most libraries here have lines of people before opening (and not just for the daily supply of Museum + Arts Passes) and the seats fill up quickly.
posted by scruss at 7:45 AM on September 10, 2013


*whimper*

BANG!
posted by IndigoJones at 7:49 AM on September 10, 2013


a discarded copy of what appears to be one of the Game of Thrones books

If that was A Dance with Dragons, no wonder it ended up in a dumpster. /snark

I agree that it's too bad there wasn't an interview with the library director here to find out why the books were being thrown in the trash as opposed to given away. It doesn't seem like too much trouble to put them in a box with a sign saying "Free Books!" But IANALibrarian so I wouldn't really know.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:53 AM on September 10, 2013


Part of my last two jobs has been jobs has been trying to give away books. Lots and lots of books. Notice the use of of the word "trying." Nobody wants them. They cost money to ship or haul away. Nobody has space for them. Even classroom teachers used to have to turn me down for new, grade-level appropriate books for lack of space. Right now, I'm being stared at by a stack of unsolicited review copies (most so off-topic that I'm convinced the publishers were cleaning out their warehouses) stretching from my desk to the ceiling. I might be able to fob one or two off on libraries, but the rest will most likely end up in recycling.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:04 AM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


And yes, I doubt these are Dumpsters headed for the landfill; they're probably headed for the recycling plant.

I do have a sentimental side about the whole thing. I spent nearly every Saturday in the public library from earliest memory through high school. But, as others have said, it's a completely different animal now. I haven't been in our local public library in years because I simply can't stand that level of noise.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:13 AM on September 10, 2013


Asked for their thoughts on which services libraries should offer to the public, majorities of Americans are strongly in favor of:

...but yet Fairfax keeps defunding their libraries. It's almost like people say socially desirable things to pollsters that they don't actually believe.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:17 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


We're talking about 250,000 books here. That's not just a box or even a couple of shelves for people to take for free, especially because that will probably still leave you with 200,000 books to do something else with.

As far as selling them goes, I used to work for an academic library and was led to believe that our annual booksale cost a lot more money than it could hope to bring in and was only continued because a number of influential donors would have been shocked at the idea of throwing away books their money had paid for. While academic and public libraries have a lot of differences, I don't really see much reason why it would be significantly different for the Fairfax library.
posted by Copronymus at 8:18 AM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


So I live in one of the most book-friendly small cities I know of, with both a robust public library and several indy bookstores, as well as what has been called the largest Friends of the Library booksale program in the U.S. that gets a lot of the discards to sell to the public to support the library -- and even here there are a certain surprisingly large amount of books no one wants and need to be gotten rid of.

One of the problems, as I understand it, with recycling the paper of discarded and unsellable books is that many books, particularly hardcover books, cannot simply enter the municipal office paper waste stream as is, but need to have covers and binding (esp. the glue that holds the books together) removed first, which is a lot of work.

Someone should invent a heavy-duty paper-chopper that would neatly remove the pages from books for recycling, leaving only the binding to be landfilled. That would probably help, so long as it didn't also remove the fingers of too many volunteers in the process.
posted by aught at 8:18 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Fun fact: weeding increases circulation! Explanation here.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:19 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's almost like people say socially desirable things to pollsters that they don't actually believe want to fund.

As somebody once said somewhere on Ask/Mefi, Americans don't want to pay for the government they want.
posted by Rykey at 8:20 AM on September 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


There's more information at chantilly.patch.com. Some of the highlights:

Cuts in hiring:
The Fairfax County Public Library Board of Trustees has proposed changes to the system, which, like many county agencies, has seen budgets shrink. A beta test for Burke and Reston was to include fewer staffers, a consolidation of help desks and hiring staff that did not hold Master of Library Science degrees.
That structure has been met with protest by many patrons and staffers.
The pilot program has been delayed once, and Supervisor Chair Sharon Bulova says she will ask for further delay.


Books in garbage:
Supervisor Linda Smyth (Providence) heard that too and decided to take a look. She checked out a dumpster near the Chantilly technical operations center, the Washington Post reported. She found stacks of discarded books, many in good condition.
After she took the books to the county government center, a directive was sent to all libraries halting the discarding of books.
Library Director Sam Clay instituted an efficiency and cost-saving measure last year in which books did not belong on one branch but rather the whole system. Under the new program, volunteer Friends of the Library groups were no longer allowed to review discards. Instead, all discards were sent to the Chantilly technical operations center, the Post reported.
The Post reports that Fairfax adds about 20,000 items a month and therefore must remove 20,000 to make room. The Friends groups are allowed to review discards again.

Emphasis mine
posted by forforf at 8:22 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's almost like people say socially desirable things to pollsters that they don't actually believe.

I live in D.C., not far from Fairfax County, and am at the busy public library in my neighborhood several times a week. Circulation has been steadily climbing [PDF - see pg. 2] in recent years, and went from 1,782,862 items in '08 to 3,059,432 last year. Public library use has grown regionally and nationally since the recession started, and shows no signs of slowing.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:29 AM on September 10, 2013


We're talking about 250,000 books here.

...aka ~125 tons.
posted by fairmettle at 8:33 AM on September 10, 2013



I haven't been inside my local library for over two years. I use it more now then I did a few years ago. Being able to check out books digitally has been fabulous for me. My local branch is really small and before I would order books from other branches and was constantly going in and out to pick them up. It was a pain keeping track of due dates on all these separate books and I was constantly paying overdue fees. Now I just check out from home and if I have to wait for it to be available I just get an email when it's ready. Never have to be concerned about getting books back on time if I forget or don't get to them.

The absolute best is all the cookbooks. I love cookbooks. It's like having a huge cookbook dream library available at my fingertips.
posted by Jalliah at 8:37 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Post reports that Fairfax adds about 20,000 items a month and therefore must remove 20,000 to make room.

Now I wonder how many of these coming and going books are the "besteseller of the month" sort. I would imagine those have a peaking circulation and then after a few more months mostly languish in oblivion? (Please library people correct me if not.) I guess it's perfectly sensible to cull those titles constantly, then. Obsolote and ignored titles should be sold or donated, if the libary of its private support groups can afford the process (not surprised this usually ends up with little or no monetary gain).
posted by Iosephus at 8:40 AM on September 10, 2013


I live in Loudoun County, which neighbors Fairfax County. LCPL's annual book sale is MASSIVE. Our libraries are also always busy, with lots of programming for childrens and teens (see LCPL Statistics). I used to live in Fairfax County and Arlington County, and still have their library cards (we have local reciprocity). FCPL used to be a great system, but this is some crazy stuff they are doing with the discards. (I have an MLIS, so I understand weeding, but just throwing the books in the trash is absurd.)

Now I wonder how many of these coming and going books are the "besteseller of the month" sort. I would imagine those have a peaking circulation and then after a few more months mostly languish in oblivion? (Please library people correct me if not.)

Often those titles are leased. The library may purchase a few permanent copies, lease the others, then return them once the "Twilight" (or whatever) request list slows down.
posted by candyland at 8:45 AM on September 10, 2013


A library that is a TARDIS.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:46 AM on September 10, 2013



Not to be obtuse, but what is going on in the USA that sees people avoid libraries? In Australia, everyone I know with kids goes to libraries all the time, although I admit most employed childless adults usually head to the bookshop instead.
Is the 'death of libraries' thing real, or just because there are more mefis who go to the bookshop than the library?


Municipal budgets are hurting all over the USA, and libraries are an easy target.
posted by ocschwar at 8:56 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


if the libary of its private support groups can afford the process (not surprised this usually ends up with little or no monetary gain).

Here's the thing (and I don't say this to come down for against this particular instance of book-trashing). In the USA we have acceptable and unacceptable publicly-funded waste-intensive industries. For a number of cultural/political reasons, things like military and tech are expected to produce more waste than viable end product. It's not expected (nor does it really make sense) that a profit would ever be turned. In the case of the military, for example, you fund it adequately (and then some) to fulfill its purpose, watch a bunch of that public money burn (literally), wave your flag, and call it a day.

When it comes to not-so-sexy things like education, though, the mindset is different. Suddenly every penny spent that doesn't produce an immediate, tangible result is perceived as an unacceptable waste of money. Schools and libraries have to beg legislatures and voters to have their funding levels sustained, let alone increased. The waste inherent to an adequately educated and cultured population is just not measured in the same way that the waste inherent to an adequately (and then some) defended population is.
posted by Rykey at 8:59 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


About the free wifi, yes it's true many of them are there for the free wifi. And the public computers which are always busy. And to check out free DVDs! But the people in front of me in the check out line do have books sometimes.

As someone whose internet goes down from time to time, has sometimes been unable to afford coffee at a place with free wifi, and who finds out about gigs from e-mail, let me tell you just how grateful I am for those services. Heck, most of the other places with free wi-fi don't work for some people for studying\research\etc. and you know, internet access is pretty nice for doing research. Oh, and let's not forget job searches, would you look down on somebody using the libraries copy of the local paper to look at the classifieds?

As to DVDs, I like reading as much as the next guy, probably quite a bit more, but I'm guessing the analogs of big explosion movies, rom-coms, or whatever other kind of movie you're feeling snobby about make up just about as large a percentage of books in the library as they do DVDs. You also left out those of us who have the nerve to check out CDs. There's no one true media that represents culture, no best way to learn (just like there's plenty of non-fiction books, my library's well stocked with Nova, BBC, and National Geographic specials), and people who can't afford netflix, new movies, etc. deserve access to them just as much as people who can do. If you can think of an institution better suited to fill those needs, let me know.

I go to the library once a week, my kids love it, I love it, and we take advantage of everything they offer from the great children's librarians, to the free tickets for smaller museums, and yes we usually get a DVD or two in addition to our books. You'll get my the non-book parts of my library when you pry them from my cold dead hands.

All of which is why I donate to the library when I can, haunt their book sales\used book section and always vote for more funding when it comes up. I probably wouldn't be nearly in love with our county library if it was all books, all the time.
posted by Gygesringtone at 9:00 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm going to put in a plug here for Better World Books

I bought a book there once and it turned out to be a pristine Pulitzer Prize winner first book first edition signed by author. The Amazon description was "Good condition may have marks" cost about $1 + sh
posted by stbalbach at 9:00 AM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I doubt these are Dumpsters headed for the landfill; they're probably headed for the recycling plant.

As a resident of Fairfax, I can absolutely assure you they were going to the landfill / incinerator "Energy Resource Recovery Facility". We do not have single-stream trash / recycling (heck, combination plastic/paper recycling is a fairly new thing here) and the two streams go to separate facilities. Unless the entire dumpster was marked "Recycling" (which wasn't the case) you can be certain it's not being recycled. That's just not now stuff works here.

Actually even if it was in a container marked "Recycling", it would still be a coin-toss if it was actually being recycled. The County guys routinely just toss the contents of both trash cans and recycling containers into the back of the garbage truck when they're running behind, in order to save themselves a trip, in which case it all goes to the incinerator anyway.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:11 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The public library I go to in Wilmington is quite busy. One day I arrived 10 minutes before it opened and was amazed to find a line of people waiting to get in.

My librarian friends tell me those people want to get first crack at the videos and never check out books.
posted by bukvich at 9:20 AM on September 10, 2013


That is actually a totally valid way to use the library.
posted by jessamyn at 9:34 AM on September 10, 2013 [19 favorites]


Gygesringtone - I didn't mean to imply that checking out DVDs is bad! I do it too. Sorry if it came off that way. I also check out the CDs sometimes. I think the library should lend as many types of materials as possible.

I have also used the meeting rooms at my public library. They are very useful and available to any county resident.
posted by interplanetjanet at 9:36 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Not to be obtuse, but what is going on in the USA that sees people avoid libraries?

Do we? My local library (which I volunteer for, and am a Friend of, and am not actually a corpse in) had almost one million items checked out last year, and is part of a system that had 22 million items checked out last year. Everyone I know with kids goes to the library, too, except for one person who I think I just bullied into doing so. But "local library is popular, provides vital services and entertainment" isn't going to be a story on the Internet.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:42 AM on September 10, 2013


Someone should invent a heavy-duty paper-chopper that would neatly remove the pages from books for recycling, leaving only the binding to be landfilled.

Every book factory has a machine that would, with minor modification or adjustment, perform that task. When books are made, after the signatures (folded bundles of pages) are bound together, and before the covers are put on,* they are fed through that machine, which trims off the folded edges, cutting through the entire thickness of the book at once. It wouldn't take much to feed the books in so the cutting happens at the binding side.

* Hardcovers are trimmed before being covered; paperbacks after.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:47 AM on September 10, 2013


- I didn't mean to imply that checking out DVDs is bad! I do it too. Sorry if it came off that way. I also check out the CDs sometimes. I think the library should lend as many types of materials as possible.

I'm probably a bit sensitive, I've actually run across people who can't keep the scorn out of their voice when talking about people who check out DVDs from the libraries. I'm even related to one. Really, it seems to be a way for her to complain about people who aren't middle class daring to appear in a public space.
posted by Gygesringtone at 9:50 AM on September 10, 2013


I live in Fairfax County, go to my local branch every few weeks, and I'm not outraged over this with what little we know at this point. These sorts of stories are guaranteed to get attention "government wasting your tax dollars!", but almost any solution that's been proposed would actually cost money. Even if you were thinking of having a massive booksale every 6mos or so, the costs of storing, transporting, sorting, culling the unusable copies, renting the sales space, and staffing it, would likely end up costing more than it brought in. It's a tough problem, and sensational stories of this sort will likely not help things.

Sure, I'd let the volunteer organizations comb through the discards if they're so inclined, but I wouldn't expect that they'd take but a small fraction of the total volume we're talking about here.
posted by CaffinatedOne at 9:52 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the library should lend as many types of materials as possible.

My mother's library lends out board games, which I think is awesome.

Also, I can't think of a reason why, in principle, a library should not let people check out DVDs and CDs and whatever popular entertainments people want to consume.

Leisure is necessary for humans to flourish. It is okay if, every once in a while, a poor person flourishes.
posted by gauche at 9:54 AM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I bet a used book store would have been happy to pick up 250,000 books for free.

Bookstores are not generally interested in ex-library books unless they are unusually rare and desirable. Bookstores, in fact, tend to regard ex-lib books with horror, considering the various stamps and marks and card pockets and masses of tape and other mutilations as vandalism. They're unsalable. It's not for lack of trying; it's just the way the market works.

The annual book sale, at least here in Seattle, is almost entirely made up of unwanted clean donations, not books off the shelves. The library receives tons of books all the time, often total junk left in boxes outside branches, that will never even make it to the sale.

If you visit any thrift store you will see crates and crates overflowing with garbage books that will spend a month on the shelves, if they are lucky, and then sent on to the garbage when they don't sell.

One thing you have to understand about the book business is that the quantity of stuff being printed is unimaginably vast, and it is exploding in volume. Almost all of it is, in a word, shit. Unrecyclable shit at that.

You also have to consider the function of the library. For a "book lover", it's hard to grasp that public libraries are not the same as academic libraries, and they are certainly not the same as the homes of book lovers. They are not repositories of culture, and they are not museums. They are places to get popular books in and out again. Every public library is full to the rafters of junk like 1987 price guides to baseball cards and outdated pop star biographies and hundreds or thousands of copies of bestselling novels that no one but no one ever wants to read again. These books NEED to be culled.
posted by Fnarf at 9:55 AM on September 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


Clay has proposed hiring librarians who may not have master’s degrees to run branches, hiring people without bachelor’s degrees to staff the libraries, and having children’s librarians spend 80 percent of their time devising and running outreach programs instead of working in the libraries.

It doesn't take a bachelor's degree to stand behind the counter and watch the automated checkout or to shelve items.
When I was a teen, I spent summers shelving books and I didn't even have a high school diploma yet.

Sure, there's a lot of specialized work in libraries that may require advanced degrees, but there's a whole lot of work that is essentially retail.
If staffing costs are one of your biggest line items, why would you not try and reduce it?
posted by madajb at 9:58 AM on September 10, 2013


Hell, I use my library card all the time, but I rarely go to the actual physical library. I check out audiobooks straight to my phone over the Internet using Overdrive. (Which, I understand, has its infrastructure problems, but from my perspective as an end-user, it is GREAT.) The userbase of the library is far greater than the users of the physical space of the library itself.
posted by KathrynT at 10:02 AM on September 10, 2013


As much as I love the 2010 Fodor's guide to Mexico it isn't for everyone. I can see why some people don't appreciate not quite current and not quite vintage travel guides.

The real issue as I see it, is that if we keep recycling or just plain dumping out of date travel guides future scrapbookers and upcyclers will have nothing to work with. Can't the library simply store them until they become kitch?
posted by Ad hominem at 10:05 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are some background issues about the whole situation that do not appear to be in the WaPo article, or at least are getting skipped over in the discussion here.

First, the entire dumpstering program was found not simply by accident, but because an anonymous group of 'concerned librarians' gave a tip to County Supervisor Linda Smyth, basically saying "hey, you should go check out the dumpster behind the Chantilly Operations Center" . To Smyth's credit, she did, and found all the books, and raised the alarm to local media from there.

Had it not been for the insider tip, it's very likely that neither the County Supervisors nor the public would have been aware of the scope of the cull until it was all done. Some people at the Friends of the Library might have had an inkling, because of the way that they weren't allowed to review discards anymore, but who would have listened to them?

It was, from where I am sitting (as a county resident/taxpayer) absolutely intended to be a fait accompli, done without public comment or oversight, part of Clay's greater "transformation" of the FCPL system from a system of libraries to ... something else. Something that involves a whole lot less books and librarians, apparently.

Given that Clay is a 30-year veteran of Fairfax County government, which on its better days resembles the court of the Medicis, there is no reason in my mind to give him the benefit of the doubt as though this was simply an ignorant mistake. One does not simply create a whole new process for book-disposal for fun, and I think it has to be read in light of the larger and ongoing conflict between Clay, some members of County government (anti-library budget hawks) and library non-users, versus librarians, other members of the County government (pro-library), and library users. Neither side are rubes: the librarians know it's their jobs (at least some of them) at stake, and it's not hard to imagine that in dropping a dime to Supervisor Smyth, the intent was not limited simply to a desire to protect books from the incinerator, but also to embarrass Clay and put a stick in the spokes of his library-transformation machine; on the other side, Clay is an experienced political operator to have survived so long, who has the backing of certain anti-library factions in the County government arena, and they presumably knew or could have guessed what the backlash at a large-scale cull/collection-reduction would be but tried to make a go of it anyway.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:13 AM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Can't the library simply store them until they become kitch?

That's not what libraries are for. That's what THRIFT STORES are for.

Think about it. I work in a computer field; guess what happened to that shelf of Windows 95 manuals the day the last one of those machines was decommissioned? Boom, in the bin.

Public libraries are not archeological sites.
posted by Fnarf at 10:14 AM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


The real issue as I see it, is that if we keep recycling or just plain dumping out of date travel guides future scrapbookers and upcyclers will have nothing to work with. Can't the library simply store them until they become kitch?

I never throw away a calendar, because you can always re-use it in a mere 11 years. Also, because kitties in cowboy clothes never go out of style.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:15 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not to be obtuse, but what is going on in the USA that sees people avoid libraries?

To be honest, since the advent of ereaders, I've had less reason to go to the library.
I mean, if you're looking for light fiction "read once and never again" type of books, why shlep on down to the library when it's available online?

I did visit weekly when my child was younger, for storytime and the like, but she's mostly outgrown that.

The main reason though, is what my local library has become. It's a community center with books attached.
A 3 story echoing atrium where they hold concerts, of all things. Dozens of people playing video games on the public computers. Teenagers hanging out in "the lounge". Kid's movie night.

Now, don't get me wrong, I support public libraries on general principle and would never vote against funding one.
Maybe that's what they need to do to stay open, to get even a fraction of the people who come for other things to go home with a book would be a victory.

But can we bring back the "Silence is golden" posters? Please?
posted by madajb at 10:16 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


If staffing costs are one of your biggest line items, why would you not try and reduce it?


I don't disagree that there's a lot of work that I do that a brightish high school graduate could do perfectly well. But when you're talking about the person who runs the branch? That person needs a master's degree. The issue is having someone around right away -- not a phone call away, not an intercom call away, but right away -- when someone needs more detailed help.

There is a lot that can go wrong in even a simple, search. A few examples that sound ridiculous:

A patron asked for "The Book Thief." The library staff member thought the patron was asking for a book called "Thief," and they went around on it like Abbott and Costello for five minutes before I finished my own transaction and overheard them.

A patron wanted a book by Erin Brockovich. After some questioning, it came out that it was a series of books about a bounty hunter, and I realized she was looking for the books by Janet Evanovich.

A patron wanted "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." The library staff member on duty ran inside to find the other girl who worked at the library, the one with the dragon tattoo, except that she came out and argued it wasn't a dragon tattoo, it was a snake tattoo. It took a few minutes for it to come out that the patron was looking for a book.

And there are a million instances where a library staff member might not know off the top of their head how to spell a title, and might not know what they don't know -- or where the patron only knows "It's about numbers and it's by a guy named Paul."

There's so many times I've seen a transaction go wrong because of some small gap in knowledge that a person with a master's degree should have been able to fix. Sometimes the person with the degree fails, and sometimes the person without the degree knows how to do it -- the degree by itself doesn't mean that much without intellectual curiosity and engagement with the larger culture of books -- but every so often, I get somebody tell me, "Whoa, I went to the other library and nobody was willing to help me like this!", and it seems to me, if we think libraries are valuable at all, if we think they're worth funding at all, it's worth it to have people there who can do real librarianship, and not just point you to aisle 3.

(True, that doesn't mean that everyone who works at the library needs a master's degree, or a bachelor's).
posted by Jeanne at 10:23 AM on September 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


I tend to think librarians are trained to know what books to keep. If professional people who know what books to keep think it is the best use of resources to throw them out then I trust them. It is kind of a situation of, no individual wants the book, no money making business most likey wants the book, but let's warehouse them somewhere and then complain because libraries only have old books nobody wants.

Crazy idea here , but there is a homeless guy near me that sells way way out of date computer manuals on the corner. He has shit like Lotus 1-2-3 manuals. He probably wants that 2010 Fodor's. Maybe the lady in the article can hook him up.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:23 AM on September 10, 2013


Sure, there's a lot of specialized work in libraries that may require advanced degrees, but there's a whole lot of work that is essentially retail.

You can read more about the staffing changes here and here. The Fairfax library system already employs people without degrees, probably in part for jobs like shelving, but also for other paraprofessional positions. What is being proposed isn't "we have too many librarians shelving books," it's, "Why do we need so many librarians." One beta library is expected to drop seven full time positions-- essentially a reduction of 1/3rd of their staff-- without impacting their ability to do reference work or handle patrons, and in fact take on more roles covering patron account issues. That this won't impact patrons seems extremely implausible.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:25 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I gave a couple of new-condition award-winning academic science books to my (private) US university's library last year. the "library manager" took the books without thanks and gave me a grumpy look as if I was dumping trash on the library or something. 50-50 he just threw the books out after I left
posted by Bwithh at 10:26 AM on September 10, 2013


gave me a grumpy look as if I was dumping trash on the library

You know, you could at least consider that his reaction implies that you might have been doing just that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:29 AM on September 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


My local library is heaven: great staff, tons of services, and they know my whole family by name.

The folks in the Friends of the Cumberland [RI] Public Library book sale room turn over hundreds of books each week in the few hours they are open. They maintain call lists on standing requests, and will troll through new books to find stuff they think we like.

I bring my books there for resale, and when I have noticed an "old friend" on the shelves, very few of them stay for long.

The Friends do all sorts of stuff for the town library -- the museum passes are among my favorites -- and they are a very active group. How can my town of c.35,000 people manage this, and a whole friggn' county not?
posted by wenestvedt at 10:36 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


kinnakeet: In some of the smaller towns I've drive through recently I've noticed a trend to have a small, unheated shed labeled "Free Library" which is always left open and is loaded with shelves of books.

Free libraries, previously. They're not just for smaller towns, anyone can set one up. Someone should just put a big sign "FREE LIBRARY" on the Fairfax County Public Library dumpster (only slightly kidding).
posted by filthy light thief at 10:36 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I now have a great idea for a moonlighting business: I'm going to offer public libraries a clandestine book disposal service. No more local busybodies insisting that the library shouldn't weed any book, ever, no matter how tattered, out-of-date, redundant (i.e. no-longer-popular bestseller), or otherwise unsalable. I pull up in a truck at 2 AM, back it up to the library's back door, you throw the books in, and I get paid in cash.

What happens to the books? Let's not worry about that. If you like, imagine that they're in a nice Carnegie library in the country, where people are delighted to read about that lady getting spanked by Mr. Grey and how NASA is planning to send men to the moon.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:40 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


the patron only knows "It's about numbers and it's by a guy named Paul."

This describes the interactions of thousands of bookstore clerks every day as well -- people who often have no degrees at all. My own personal triumph was leading a customer directly to a book described only as "blue, and it was on Oprah". It was red, and had been on Phil Donahue. A good clerk has to be almost psychic.

I'm not knocking libraries or librarians -- my best friends have always been librarians. But in today's funding world, it's often a choice between that Master's degree and staying open on Fridays. That sucks. Blame your taxpayers and politicians.

Where the higher degrees really pay off is in trying to ferret out the deep mysteries of the catalog. A while back I was looking for the second volume of Stephen Ambrose's big biography of Nixon. The library didn't have it -- but their catalog said they did, because someone had inadvertently dragged in the OCLC record for the entire series when cataloging the single first volume. It's fixed now, thanks to the wonderful interaction I had with a skilled woman at the desk. I'm glad she was there that day; she's on three days a week at my branch (which is basically a warehouse for pickups and dropoffs of holds from other branches).
posted by Fnarf at 10:42 AM on September 10, 2013


the patron only knows "It's about numbers and it's by a guy named Paul."


"The Man Who Loved Only Numbers"
?
posted by madajb at 10:44 AM on September 10, 2013


The folks in the Friends of the Cumberland [RI] Public Library book sale room turn over hundreds of books each week in the few hours they are open. They maintain call lists on standing requests, and will troll through new books to find stuff they think we like.

The library was apparently trashing five thousand books a week; it's a problem that's an order of magnitude more complicated than selling a few hundred books a week.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:48 AM on September 10, 2013


Crazy idea here , but there is a homeless guy near me that sells way way out of date computer manuals on the corner. He has shit like Lotus 1-2-3 manuals. He probably wants that 2010 Fodor's. Maybe the lady in the article can hook him up.

250k books and some spackle would totally make a house, right?
posted by asperity at 10:49 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


a discarded copy of what appears to be one of the Game of Thrones books

Their online catalog reveals 20 copies of "A Clash of Kings" and 13 of "A Game of Thrones" in the system, plus e-books and audiobooks of the others. They even have the cookbook (?).

They currently have 196 copies of "50 Shades of Grey", with what looks like more than 2/3 of them currently checked out.

Libraries are usually pretty good at figuring out what people actually want as well as when they stop wanting it. Laypeople, not so much.
posted by Fnarf at 10:49 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


A patron wanted "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." The library staff member on duty ran inside to find the other girl who worked at the library, the one with the dragon tattoo, except that she came out and argued it wasn't a dragon tattoo, it was a snake tattoo. It took a few minutes for it to come out that the patron was looking for a book.

Oh come on and admit it, this is one of the best things that's ever happened and we should be trying to build a world where this happens more not less.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:50 AM on September 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


Yeah, the degree isn't magic or anything. But I think at the typical chain bookstore, you're more likely to get a shrug than a useful answer if you ask even a slightly more involved question, and people not caring if the same thing happens with libraries -- that, to me, is more concerning than a hundred tons of weeded books in a dumpster.
posted by Jeanne at 10:52 AM on September 10, 2013


And the next day the same patron came back and said "you know, I think I actually want the girl with the snake tattoo instead, is she in?"
posted by Fnarf at 10:52 AM on September 10, 2013


To be honest, since the advent of ereaders, I've had less reason to go to the library.

Hilariously, it's the advent of e-readers that pushed me into becoming a total public library convert . I spent over $50 in Kindle books one month because I wasn't really keeping track of how many books I was flying through, and decided that it's ridiculous to spend so money when I can get these books for free. I'm lucky in that my public library is in a great walkable location and has excellent hours, so once or twice a week I pop on over to pick up books I've requested through their online catalog. Now my Amazon wishlist is just a way to keep track of books I want to eventually request from the library. Some I've been able to borrow digitally through Overdrive. When my library doesn't have a particular book I've been able to request it from another library within the system and it shows up on the hold shelf for me within a few days. Sure, I still buy the occasional Kindle book, but the vast majority of my reading is done through the library.

Also, having an e-reader and the funds to buy e-books is a remarkably privileged position that many people do not enjoy. I worry about the push to drop so many print books in favor of digital in public libraries because there are really a lot of people who would be left without books if we went all-digital.

One thing I'm surprised public libraries don't consider is starting a borrow/return by mail service for a fee (cost of postage plus a little extra to cover labor costs), so it's more like the paperbook swap or a Netflix-for-books model, for people who just can't make it to the library in person frequently. If I didn't live close enough to a library I'd totally pay a modest fee for being able to transact through the mail.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 10:56 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think it has to be read in light of the larger and ongoing conflict between Clay, some members of County government (anti-library budget hawks) and library non-users, versus librarians, other members of the County government (pro-library), and library users. Neither side are rubes: the librarians know it's their jobs (at least some of them) at stake, and it's not hard to imagine that in dropping a dime to Supervisor Smyth, the intent was not limited simply to a desire to protect books from the incinerator, but also to embarrass Clay and put a stick in the spokes of his library-transformation machine;

@Kaden2048,

I'd say that the "whistle-blowing" here likely is intended to embarrass Clay, and these sorts of petty things happen all of the time between competing factions in large organizations. What I've not seen is that the culling here is some sort of nefarious library transformation scheme. I read the local paper and it covered it with about as much depth as what's posted here (not much), but from what I've seen, it seems to be a lot of sensationalism around what's in effect a rather large logistical issue that modern libraries face.

That librarians might not like Clay, or his plans, wouldn't be surprising, but thus far this looks like the typical type of issue where something looks terrible unless you actually spend a few minutes thinking about it, and they're counting on you not taking those few minutes.
posted by CaffinatedOne at 11:02 AM on September 10, 2013


Well and the service model is different. Not arguing some of the points people have made, but ultimately the bookstore is a business and the library is a public service. They have different end goals and different values as institutions. The fact that there's so much fuzzy understanding of the differences between public and private institutions that share a few similarities (big rooms full of books) is, I think, partly a failure of marketing and partly a lot of people not really drawing the distinction between the sharing model and the purchasing model (or not caring). 96.4 percent of Americans are served by a public library. That's huge. A lot of these people are "inconvenient" to provide service for in many ways and the fact that there is a nationwide system that does this is nothing short of amazing, to me. And it's a bummer when libraries like this one take some of this reputation and squander it with bad practices and communication about those practices. And that it takes other librarian whistleblowers to put a stop to it.

When it gets down to it the "Help me find a book I barely remember" stuff really isn't usually the tricky stuff we do, though it can be. A lot of times it's trying to maintain a balanced and relevant collection of books in a small space for a population that may be changing more rapidly than your collections budget. Or dealing with the fact that every single person in your community has a right (a legal right as well as a moral right) to be able to access the items in your collection. And some people in your community dislike other people in your community and you want to try to provide good service to all of them.
posted by jessamyn at 11:04 AM on September 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


One thing I'm surprised public libraries don't consider is starting a borrow/return by mail service for a fee (cost of postage plus a little extra to cover labor costs)

This is a thing some libraries do offer! From a recent discussion on Facebook on the ALATT page, Boise Public Library, Multnomah County Libraries, Rochester Hills Public Library, Willard Library, St Johns County...and a bunch more, but you may want to Google for your area to see if there are any similar services. I know some academic libraries with distance education students have programs like this.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:07 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos, I fear I was unclear: they are moving a LOT of books every week already, for a small operation in a small town.

In a community with about thirty times the population, I believe that a similar set-up could scale up. Maybe not to a quarter-million books a year, but they could probably shift a lot of those, while also returning money to the library system itself.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:13 AM on September 10, 2013


A few years ago a small college I'm associated with started doing this - accelerated weeding, basically. The books that I saw were in the "25 cents for a book" booksale shelf, and there may have been many more that didn't make it to the shelf. Some of the books they were removing seemed to have a clear rationale - outdated textbooks, duplicate copies, or similar. But a nontrivial number seemed to be things the library should keep - reference works on somewhat obscure topics where there had never been another comparable reference work put together, that sort of thing.

The rumor was they were reducing shelf space by some large factor in order to put in more computer space and more meeting rooms.

I'm very glad I'm not the one who has to make those decisions. This thread has been really interesting, for seeing it from both sides.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:19 AM on September 10, 2013


Surely we could combine the library funding cuts with the school lunch program cuts (mentioned a few days ago), and let the children eat the books, no?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:22 AM on September 10, 2013


Why did 31-year library director Sam Clay make that decision?

God forbid 31-year-olds could run libraries or love books. Disagree with that decision, but bringing up his age reads like an ad hominem.
posted by ersatz at 11:27 AM on September 10, 2013


Pretty sure that's "31-year library director" as in, he's been running the library for 31 years. He got his masters in 1967, so I'm pretty sure he's not 31.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:28 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Increase library funding to save my reading comprehension, brothers. Apologies.
posted by ersatz at 11:30 AM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I used to be the volunteer coordinator for an education non-profit that received about 4-5 gaylords of books (that's 4' x 3' x 3.33', like a pallet cubed) each month in donations. We had volunteers sort them for age appropriateness and anything that didn't make sense for schools was up for grabs from the volunteers, and then went to Books for Africa -- at least a gaylord a month. Eventually Books for Africa was oversaturated and we had a mounting storage crisis. We got right up to the point of calling recyclers when some local Gleaners stepped up. Their truck didn't have a lift so we threw an extra big volunteer party for several hours one evening just to transfer the accumulated three months of excess gaylords up into the truck by hand.

Goodness bless those Gleaners. They kept coming back for more. I have no idea what they were doing with all those books. Mulch?

If I'm really honest with myself, the main reason that I didn't throw in the towel sooner and call the recyclers was so that I could continue to show my face at Metafilter meet-ups.
posted by Skwirl at 11:31 AM on September 10, 2013


asperity: "250k books and some spackle would totally make a house, right?"

Or a smaller quantity of books, a bar
posted by exogenous at 11:59 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


at least a gaylord a month

Is that a measure of weight or volume?
posted by dubold at 12:12 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


What I've not seen is that the culling here is some sort of nefarious library transformation scheme.

It hasn't gotten as much attention as the actual book-dumpstering, but there was an ongoing effort to "transform" the FCPL prior to the issue hitting the news. It just wasn't getting a lot of attention outside the County, and to be honest not much outside specific blogs and news outlets that cater to people who are interested in such things.

The public controversy (again, pre-books-in-the-dumpster) centered around a "pilot program" at Reston and Burke Center libraries to reduce staffing by up to 34% (20.5 to 13.5 FTEs at Reston); a related change was a proposed removal of the MLS requirement. It's fairly clear that the original intent was to roll it out as quietly as possible at Reston / Burke Center, and then from there expand it to the rest of the County. If there hadn't been a lot of opposition during the pilot, the expansion to the rest of the County would have been easier to justify.

As far as I know, the pilot program is still up for a vote by the FCPL Board tomorrow; it's been delayed a few times. It seems unlikely to move forward due to the negative press, though.

The entire pilot program / transformation initiative smacked, from the beginning, of "Borderizing" (admittedly ironic given what happened to Borders recently) the library, and would logically dovetail with substantially decreasing the library's overall collection, particularly of reference works. In contrast to claims that the dumpstering was merely part of a steady-state, 20k-in-20k-out maintenance program, there are others who claim that the FCPL has had a net decrease of 250k books (since 2005) in its collection.

Whether you view the library transformation scheme as "nefarious" or not is debatable, and there is certainly an argument on either side, but I don't think there's much dispute that there was and is an ongoing effort to do that, and the dumpster issue needs to be read in light of that greater conflict.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:21 PM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


It is amazing how many people have a gut reaction to books ending up in the bin. When the library I work in was moving we had a huge weed. I work in the HQ bit, so we stored loads of books that had been returned due to low circulation etc., but were moving to a smaller location (albeit one that didn't leak), so we needed to downsize. And also not pay for moving rubbish around the town.
When we got our skips we were told to make sure no member of the public saw us, otherwise there would be complaints. Despite the fact that these books were worthless. Worse than worthless, to keep them would have entailed a cost.

There is a reason that plenty of libraries hide how much weeding they do. People react as if the library was skinning live puppies. Books have value because of what they represent, the knowledge inside them, the stories they tell. The physical bit of a book is the least important.

Throwing those thousands of books away probably saved that library money, and time.
posted by Fence at 12:31 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, the second link (this one), which is from the WaPo rather than a local blog, draws a direct link between the book-dumpstering, the library transformation plan, and the 250k overall reduction in FCPL's collection, the latter in contrast to claims suggesting that the dumpstering was merely part of ongoing net-zero collection maintenance.
[A]s Sam Clay, Fairfax’s longtime library director, launched a plan to revamp the county system, no books were given to the Friends of the Library for seven months this year, and more than 250,000 books were destroyed, Smyth said.
Granted, it's important to realize that Smyth is not a dispassionate observer in all of this; she's the one that the librarians decided to send their anonymous tip to, so presumably they knew she was going to be receptive.

But yeah, there's a bigger game afoot than just the fate of a quarter-million books, that's just the surface issue.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:32 PM on September 10, 2013


This is my library system; I got my first library card at the Thomas Jefferson branch when I was seven. Though I am not currently working in the library field, I have an MSLS, and I use the collection intensively. Though the weeding could have been handled better [there are far poorer county library systems only sixty minutes west of Chantilly], this is what caught my attention in the Strategic Plan:

“The library's technological future will be decided not only by economics, but to a large extent by the technology business leaders who introduce new products and advances without the slightest consideration of libraries. So it falls to staff to decide if, and how, we can use these advances. . . The library is committed to. . . ensuring staff are proficient in using current and future information services technology [and] providing customers access and training in the latest information services technology.”

Wait, what? Where is this knowledge going to come from? I work in IT and can barely keep up. These kinds of significant changes aren’t something you can push down to anonymous ‘staff’; you need very savvy librarians who understand both the mission of library services (see also jessamyn) and information technologies. You need more professional librarians, not fewer. That a county as wealthy as Fairfax (3rd wealthiest county in the nation in 2012; average per capita income, $105,416) would decide to deprofessionalize its library services model is outrageous.
posted by apartment dweller at 1:19 PM on September 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


Jesus H. Mung, have these people never heard of McKay's?
posted by NedKoppel at 1:24 PM on September 10, 2013


Goodness bless those Gleaners. They kept coming back for more. I have no idea what they were doing with all those books. Mulch?

Cherry picking for books that sell in online used book markets and chuck the rest?
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:32 PM on September 10, 2013


Goodness bless those Gleaners. They kept coming back for more.

Cherry picking for books that sell in online used book markets and chuck the rest?

The fate of books as discussed in this thread reminds me of "The Bottle Imp": People profit as they pass them from hand to hand, the books sell for progressively less along the way, and the last person to own them loses.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:12 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not to be obtuse, but what is going on in the USA that sees people avoid libraries?

Well, if it's anything like what's going on in my town, the library is one of the few places that can't or don't kick out the homeless and the increasingly shrinking middle class doesn't like to be reminded that they're more likely to become one of "the poors" than one of 1%. Also, there's hardly anybody left who has the attention span and IQ to read anything this side of "supernatural teen romance" or "Jack Ryan saves the day again."
posted by entropicamericana at 2:33 PM on September 10, 2013


Also, there's hardly anybody left who has the attention span and IQ to read anything this side of "supernatural teen romance" or "Jack Ryan saves the day again."

It sounds like your library should be stocking up on supernatural teen romances and copies of "Jack Ryan saves the day again". Looks like the librarians aren't doing their jobs.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:41 PM on September 10, 2013


Now my Amazon wishlist is just a way to keep track of books I want to eventually request from the library.

I'd call that poetic justice.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:53 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


What kind of fuckin' psychopath librarian throws away a perfectly good Graeme Base?
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:59 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd expect a conspiracy linking FCPL's revamped mission to Ken Cuccinelli.
posted by bad grammar at 3:42 PM on September 10, 2013


For some reason, I'm especially frustrated by the article's tone regarding the YA section and manga wall that replaced the reference section at one library. Something about those quote marks around "Teen Zone"... I mean, God forbid libraries should reach out to teenagers with material they enjoy reading, where the alternative is hanging on to paper research materials that are readily available online. When I was a kid, my library's comics and manga section introduced me to unfamiliar art forms from faraway countries. Library comics are still broadening my world today. I don't just use the library to read novels and do research for free -- I use it to discover things I would never ordinarily seek out, and I've always appreciated librarians' insight into what will fascinate our community in every genre and form.
posted by thesmallmachine at 3:49 PM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


In other news..

Los Angeles Times - 13 school workers, librarians indicted in textbook theft ring

L.A. County prosecutors have charged 13 employees in four of the region's most financially strapped school districts with stealing thousands of textbooks for a book buyer, who allegedly paid them $200,000 in bribes.

A 37-page indictment unsealed Thursday tells of a book-selling scheme in which book buyer Corey Frederick recruited two librarians, a campus supervisor and a former warehouse manager, among others, to allegedly steal thousands of books from schools in Los Angeles, Inglewood and Bellflower.

The scheme ran from 2008 to December 2010, prosecutors said.

In return, the operators of "Doorkeeper Textz" in Long Beach would pay the employees from $600 to $47,000 for acquiring textbooks, which were district property.

In some cases, prosecutors allege Frederick would resell the books through other intermediaries back to the institutions from which they were originally stolen weeks before.

posted by charlie don't surf at 3:51 PM on September 10, 2013


In fact, my own library no longer has Friends groups holding book sales, a decision I suspect may be related to a case in Manhattan where a Friends of the Library member used library book sales to embezzle tens of thousands of dollars.

The situation in Fairfax County could've been handled much better, I'm sure, but sometimes every solution you think of poses its own problems.
posted by Jeanne at 4:07 PM on September 10, 2013


As an Aussie, like Bystander this makes me scratch my head too. Our libraries don’t seem to be in the sort of crisis that we keep hearing about from the USA. Sure they’re evolving their services rapidly, and are becoming more of a community hub, but they retain their central focus on books and knowledge, and are still a quiet space. Internet, DVDs, papers, magazines, local history, as well as lots of books of course. Every library culls their books with an annual sale, advertised in the local paper, pick up some bargains. Senior librarians have bachelors degrees, front-line staff may or may not. There just aren’t the issues you seem to hear about. I don’t know that there’s any magic to it, they offer a service that a lot of people still want, and are popular across the generations.
posted by wilful at 4:33 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nothing provokes outrage quite like "The library is THROWING AWAY BOOKS!!!" Weeding the collection is necessary and vital. And sometimes rehoming or selling the books isn't possible -- I mean, the library where I work has a perpetual "book sale" table filled with all kinds of books that people give us, because they think the library should have every single book in the universe, regardless of how outdated it might be. Plus, best-sellers like Harry Potter have a pretty short life-span in a library. When the books come out, and are massively popular, the library buys as many as possible to meet the demand. But what to do with the extra copies once the craze dies down? Selling them seems like a great option... but if everyone's already read them, or bought the paperback, who's going to buy the library's 20 extra, beat-up used hardcovers?

(The same problem, I suspect, makes donating them a problem. Shelters have limited space -- how are they supposed to deal with 30 copies of Harry Potter and Twilight, and outdated Reference books? By throwing them away, most likely.)

The 2010 Fodor's Guide is a great example of a book that doesn't belong on the library's shelves, and won't sell. It's outdated -- the library more than likely has a 2013 of that title on the shelf. Who's going to buy the outdated copy? Nobody.

And I lost track of the comment about how libraries have empty space on their shelves -- that's deliberate, so the collection has room to expand. Empty space on the shelves allows for the books to be easily shifted around as new materials come in. If the shelves are crammed full, then the library is in real trouble, because they don't ohysically have the space for new books!
posted by sarcasticah at 4:38 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


The 2010 Fodor's Guide is a great example of a book that doesn't belong on the library's shelves, and won't sell. It's outdated -- the library more than likely has a 2013 of that title on the shelf. Who's going to buy the outdated copy? Nobody.

Time travelers, or people who intend to travel back to the heady days of 2010 for, I dunno, tax purposes?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:56 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


It might be smart to pick it up if you plan to visit 2008 or so, just to know what to invest in or which sports team to bet on.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:05 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, the second link (this one), which is from the WaPo rather than a local blog, draws a direct link between the book-dumpstering, the library transformation plan, and the 250k overall reduction in FCPL's collection, the latter in contrast to claims suggesting that the dumpstering was merely part of ongoing net-zero collection maintenance.

That's just it, the article doesn't appear to draw a direct link, but rather just lumps together a pile of library issues and uses the "throwing away books" issue as the attention-grabbing lead-in.

I suspect that I agree with you on most of this in that I don't want libraries to be cut and would rather that they be expanded, but this sort of ginned up fake issue isn't likely to help the situation.
posted by CaffinatedOne at 6:11 PM on September 10, 2013


I'm flailing around in the stats I don't quite understand and can't find more recent figures, but it looks like in 2012 Australia spent $41.48 (US) per capita, while in 2010 the US public libraries spent $36.18.

So that's what Australia's doing right.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:02 PM on September 10, 2013


They're inanimate objects, not puppies who will look at you with sad, wet eyes as you put them in the dumpster.

You've never seen a full set of Apollo and SGI workstation systems manuals and programming guides. Just sitting there, allllll alone in a cold, cruel dumpster behind the Martin-Marietta office after the merger with Lockheed. Of course we took them in. We're not monsters.

We're monsters with a DN10000 and an Iris 4D.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:24 PM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


wilful: "As an Aussie, like Bystander this makes me scratch my head too. Our libraries don’t seem to be in the sort of crisis that we keep hearing about from the USA. Sure they’re evolving their services rapidly, and are becoming more of a community hub, but they retain their central focus on books and knowledge, and are still a quiet space. Internet, DVDs, papers, magazines, local history, as well as lots of books of course. Every library culls their books with an annual sale, advertised in the local paper, pick up some bargains. Senior librarians have bachelors degrees, front-line staff may or may not. There just aren’t the issues you seem to hear about. I don’t know that there’s any magic to it, they offer a service that a lot of people still want, and are popular across the generations."

Most librarians in Aus have post-grad qualifications - it's a requirement for most places that you have those qualifications to be called a librarian. Otherwise you're some other kind of professional (Library Operations Supervisor for the corporate types and so on). Budgets are getting cut (just like any public service associated with government) and shifts in staffing do take place.

Personally, the best front-line staff I've ever met have all been sans qualifications, or the very basic technical ones. Because it is customer service, and knowing your product and your environment and being a reader and so on. And some of the worst front-line staff I've ever met have been those who think their Masters conferred upon them magic skills - the kind who refuse to use google or wikipedia because they're so terrible, and instead the poor customer gets to wait around while they go through encyclopaedias and databases searching for the author of that book about the numbers. Or that they should handle any query about the computers when they themselves were barely capable.

My degree started out mostly useless (business school crossed with tech classes yet never actually using any of the main software packages used in libraries) but I have a facility with statistics (which is vital for long-term planning, collection development and programming outreach) and an understanding of databases that allows me to get those statistics. You didn't need me to find a good book to read (although I could) - you needed me to work out where the $145k of book buying money should be allocated across a quarter of the population, and what was likely to be the next big thing for fiction, and what the curriculum changes mean for non-fiction purchasing, and where we should be focusing outreach, and things like that. It meant, as a young people's librarian with a Masters, I did spend 80% of my time in the back room but that's where I should be. My assistants were more than capable (brilliant women they were!) to do storytime, talk with parents and so on. We had regular meetings and training about early learning and childhood development and so on, and I was on hand, but putting me at my pay level out there shelving books, would be nonsensical. Was nonsensical and a sore point between my immediate supervisor (pro-shelving) and the Director (why have we got three librarians at that pay grade doing something the volunteers are happy to do?) so every so often a report (that only I could write) would be done late, or badly, because librarians should be out there and did I think I was too good to shelve books? We had the money for training and so on, which is vital to maintaining a library workforce, but it's not reliant on qualifications.

Front-line exposure is vital to higher level managers in libraries, in my opinion, but there are inefficiencies to it.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:43 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


The tiny Texas town where I am did a groovy thing when we outgrew the library. They planned a city "public center" where the library, the city offices, the community center gym and recreation center, basketball courts, park, walking trail, etc., are all together. In the summer, you can hardly park for all the people at the rec center and the library. The town decided to not spend money on things like crazy forth of july celebrations, but instead built a section of the library that is just for teenagers. It's got doors and it's own librarian, and games and comfy couches and books on crazy shelves, and I've never once walked into that room and not seen at least 5 teenagers, usually reading...but sometimes just hanging out in the air conditioning, not being bothered by parents or siblings.

My convoluted point is this: the town decided to make the library part of the central focus of the town's development. As well, they decided to make the building welcoming not only to small children who are often served by children's librarians, but also made it welcoming to tweens and teens and young adults by giving them their own spaces and collections. Subsequently, the library is always populated by a diverse set of community members, and it is considered a valuable community resource.

I don't think libraries are dying; I think they may be evolving.
posted by dejah420 at 8:33 PM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Over here (UK) there is an organisation called Books For Free, who takes the books that charity bookshops and libraries can't use or sell and offers them in 'book recycling centres'. I've heard stories of some charity bookshop chains who won't put out for sale even slightly worn paperbacks, and libraries here don't by and large accept public donations, so this is a great idea.

In practice, there are a lot of 1997 guides to Seattle, but then so has Abebooks, so somebody must still be wanting them. Libraries actually don't update travel books that often - my local library near work has the penultimate editions on the shelves - and some people like me like paper guides for the maps, and inexpensive fairly-recent copies can be left behind in the hotel to save space in luggage.

And the likelihood of finding something peculiar in one of these centres is gratifyingly high.
posted by mippy at 8:56 AM on September 11, 2013


In practice, there are a lot of 1997 guides to Seattle, but then so has Abebooks, so somebody must still be wanting them.

This sounds kind of backwards? If people want the used guides to Seattle then there shouldn't be a lot of them because they're all finding homes.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:00 AM on September 11, 2013


Well, it puzzled me too that they appear to be worth someone's time to sell. A used book store I used to frequent had a 50p basement. Sometimes you'd find less popular books, or tattier editions, or the odd bestseller that was too popular to be worth selling at a higher price, but there were a couple of shelves there which I thought of as 'where diets go to die' and 'the OS graveyard'.

And there are a million instances where a library staff member might not know off the top of their head how to spell a title, and might not know what they don't know -- or where the patron only knows "It's about numbers and it's by a guy named Paul."

Not long after I graduated, I worked in a library as a shelving assistant. I read a LOT, and I have a very good memory for the written word. If someone came to ask me for something, I'd know where to point them (I spent a lot of time in that library as a teen, when it was still organised strictly by Dewey rather than the more modern 'subject zones' civic libraries tend to have now) and if they wanted a recommendation, I could give them that too. However, as we were temp staff and not full-time, we were expressly forbidden from advising any patrons on how to use the check-outr machine or where to find the true crime books, and instructed to send them straight to the desk. It was SO FRUSTRATING. Instead of being helpful, we had to come across as dismissive, and sometimes the permanent staff (in public libraries in this district you did not need any higher qualification and only had to demonstrate literary, maths and people skills to apply, though I'm not sure how that changed higher up the ladder - certainly none of the floor staff had specific library qualifications) did not know about that particular area and would spend ten minutes looking up something I could have told them in thirty seconds.
posted by mippy at 9:13 AM on September 11, 2013


(That's not to discredit the permanent staff, by the way - although loving books is one part of working in a library, so is the patience to sit down with people and show them how to use a computer catalogue search or to be able to efficiently organise book orders, and you can be well-equipped with the former and not have the personal skills for the latter. But when I had to walk past someone who was asking me how to show them why their electronic search wasn't bringing up the books on kittens and essentially ignore them instead of guiding them to the right button or section - GRAR.)
posted by mippy at 9:20 AM on September 11, 2013


The Tea Party vs. Public Libraries
posted by Artw at 4:23 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Another article has appeared in WaPo about this issue on Thursday: In Fairfax County, protests over dumping of library books could not be hushed.
posted by sperose at 9:07 AM on September 16, 2013


The photos shocked people. There was a sad “Harry Potter” book, bent at a spine-cracking angle, amid about the thousands of others. This tugged at the hearts of bibliophiles who swarmed the board meeting to demand answers.

Because the Harry Potter books had such a small print run that we need to keep the ugly, mangled copies on the shelves well after demand for them has peaked. Obviously.
posted by asperity at 2:45 PM on September 16, 2013


From sperose's link: "He was there for the meeting (and the football book) and he was among the crowd that cheered wildly when the board voted to suspend the modernization program."
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:08 PM on September 16, 2013


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