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It Came From the Stacks
July 13, 2009 9:41 PM   Subscribe

Awful Library Books Volumes that are so outdated or so outmoded that they no longer belong in a public library. Your grandfather's Computer Science. Your grandfather's Rocket Science. Your grandmother's Feminism. Your great-grandmother's Pre-Feminism. (And your great-grandfather's.) Your grandparents' parents! World Powers that no longer exist! Old predictions that didn't happen! Bios of people when they were famous for something else! Roller Disco! Books considered crackpot when they were new! Stuff even the Politically Incorrect would think are Just Plain Wrong! And more! Are any of these books hiding in YOUR library? (If so, mail them to me.)

P.S.: I can't believe no one in the MetaFilter Library Squad posted this before me. I did work in a Library in college, and my mother the teacher did do two years as a school librarian, but I'm probably the 17,000th most-librarianish MeFite. And I found it at Neatorama.
posted by wendell (78 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite

 
We have a box outside our library where these items appear regularly mixed with old census reports and the odd can of cream of mushroom soup.
posted by furtive at 9:43 PM on July 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


I own that Roller Disco book.

My wife has been trying to get me to weed our personal library for some time.
posted by mazola at 9:45 PM on July 13, 2009


When I was a kid in the early 70s, my parents couldn't afford a new set of encyclopedias. But my Mom was adamant that we'd have one in the house because, although she was a classic farmer girl from Alabama who only went to high school through 10th grade, she had a dear love of learning and wanted us kids to have benefit of as much as we could get.

Her solution: a used 1959 set of Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedias from a yard sale. Many of the articles were heavily influenced by a Cold War perspective. And the article on the Moon opined that one day, we might be able to visit. God, I loved those books, even outdated as they were, and spent hours and hours poring through them.

Thanks, Mom (and rest in peace)!
posted by darkstar at 10:00 PM on July 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


Ronald Reagan the actor? Then who's vice president? Jerry Lewis? I suppose Jane Wyman is the first lady!
posted by shakespeherian at 10:05 PM on July 13, 2009 [10 favorites]


I love the horrible prediction books that don't come true. That's some of my favorite reading. According to the book featured in the link, we will tame hurricanes by 1994. How exciting is that?

I mean, that's right at the end of the Eugenics Wars.
posted by gc at 10:05 PM on July 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm against the idea that all of these books should be weeded out, just because they are old and might be slightly less precise than a modern book on the same topic. When I was a kid, I loved picking out any book older than myself and read it, even the ones I knew full well were a load of shit.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:12 PM on July 13, 2009 [12 favorites]


I love the old computer science you sometimes find in libraries. I particularly like those old ones with BASIC code that you could copy from the book to make a working game. Sure, they were primitive, but arguably they were much better introductions to game coding than the mindbogglingly complex textbooks that illustrate the science behind modern computer games.

A few times I've also come across books that promise to "reveal all cheats and secrets for the hottest SNES titles of 1995!" and so on. They're an interesting portrait of a time when there was still an element of mystery around games - it really was feasible that there was a secret character or dungeon hidden deep somewhere within the game, and you couldn't just use an internet FAQ or a game crack to unlock everything. Of course, lest I get too nostalgic, it was also a time where you could struggle for months just to get past a single part of a game (Sierra adventures, anyone?).

I would be sad if old books like these were removed from libraries just because they seem quaint or out of date. In 100 years we're going to want to know what computer science and video gaming were like in the past, and I think old books could help fill in the gaps between the commercially-driven big discoveries and provide a great deal of humanising detail.
posted by fearthehat at 10:13 PM on July 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


I was a kid in the early eighties and my school's library had an old British technology-compendium book from some time in the 1950s that promised nuclear-furnace-powered steam trains. In the sixty years between then and now I feel we've lost something vital and energetic in our technological society. I mean, let's all say it together...

Nuclear steam trains.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 10:15 PM on July 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


Be sure not to miss the Parents Guide to Goths - or Why Suzie hates you and loves The Cure.
posted by dejah420 at 10:42 PM on July 13, 2009


When I was a kid my parent's bought a children's encyclopaedia that came with a parent's guide. It was horribly dated. Even though this was in the early 90's, the latest date under the publishing info was around 1972. Needless to say, my sister and I found it hilarious. The "sex talk" section of the parent's guide inexplicably featured a picture of a teenage girl petting a cat, and it suggested parents explain sex by forming a circle with one hand and repeatedly moving the opposing index finger through it.

I recently saw the same book in a supposedly well-stocked library. My boyfriend found me snickering in a corner an hour later.
posted by Partario at 11:04 PM on July 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Something about the tone of that blog bothers me. I'm studying to be a cultural historian, and every time I see a book like that I don't think "haha, look at that dumb book by dumb people from the past!" I see a fascinating window into how people related to their world at a particular time and place. It's really a pretty humbling experience. The tone here just makes the author sound kinda shallow.
posted by nasreddin at 11:16 PM on July 13, 2009 [33 favorites]


I love finding these books at the local charity bookstores, and looking to see whether they've recently been culled from a council or school library, or just come from a recent cleanup of the boxes of stuff packed away when granddad died. Unfortunately, I suspect there's plenty more people like me, and St. Vinnies et. al. are on to us - the best of them are prominently displayed at the front of the store, at prices that'd make A&R & Border's blush.

The best find so far has been one my gf bought : a photobook of Tibet, all spectacular scenery and grateful peasants smiling at being 'liberated' from the yoke of serfdom by the Chinese. Must scan it sometime and put it up somewhere...

Is it wrong of me to desperately want to see the inside of the one in the Politically Incorrect link above?

(I really love those ones. Mainly because I know damned well that, regardless of how enlightened and progressive you think you are now, in 20, 30, or 40 years time your grandkids are going to be asking questions like "I don't understand; how could you even have thought that?!" about current ideas and mores.

And you're hardly going to see what the problem is... ;-)

Books shouldn't be removed from libraries, no matter how outdated or un-PC they are - they should be put into a special library, well cared for, digitized for easy searching and reading, and available to everyone. Just so we can all marvel at the innocence, be astounded by the hopes and dreams, laugh at the stupidity, be shocked by the attitudes - and, hopefully, learn from the past.
posted by Pinback at 11:25 PM on July 13, 2009 [9 favorites]


For instance, if this book is "awful," then they might as well say that all history is. Who gives a shit about Tom Paine? We're in A-M-E-R-I-C-A, helllloo! Not the British colonies anymore! Who'd want to read that crap?
posted by nasreddin at 11:31 PM on July 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


Partario inexplicably featured a picture of a teenage girl petting a cat,
Didn't get the subtle joke? :)

Pinback Books shouldn't be removed from libraries, no matter how outdated or un-PC they are - they should be put into a special library, well cared for, digitized for easy searching and reading, and available to everyone. Just so we can all marvel at the innocence, be astounded by the hopes and dreams, laugh at the stupidity, be shocked by the attitudes - and, hopefully, learn from the past.
Absolutely. The idea of librarians removing or destroying books has always given me a sense of horror at the devastation of knowledge. But we are about to enter the age of Google, wherein all books ever will be digitized and eventually, when the copyright wars are over, be available for everyone to see.

Apart from being books, these are fascinating ephemera, capable of giving great insights into how people thought and lived.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:37 PM on July 13, 2009


Around 2005 I saw a hippie-looking homeless guy leaning over a garbage can reading a beat-up paperback of Alvin Toffler's Future Shock. I about snorted my coffee out my nose.
posted by eegphalanges at 11:46 PM on July 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Having read through the blog more thoroughly, I agree with nasreddin. This blog is a whole bunch of LOLOLDNESS! wrapped up in a shallow package.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:47 PM on July 13, 2009


Let me third Pinback and aeschenkarnos on having a "special library" of the outdated and obsolete. That's why I wrote "mail them to me"! I also do know how misleading and anti-useful some of these books can be to someone (especially someone very young) without prior knowledge on the subject. Books on "the threat of the Soviet Union" will be useful to serious historians, but crap to people trying to learn a little history, and how many in each category will be going to a suburban branch library? And I suspect it may be more effective for library fund-raising to say "we have no books on rocketry" instead of "our most recent book on rocketry is 40 years old". The MeFi Librarians can tell me if I'm right or wrong there. But again, a "Library of Old Knowledge" would be wonderful, and I'm halfway serious about "mail them to me".
posted by wendell at 11:54 PM on July 13, 2009


The idea of librarians removing or destroying books has always given me a sense of horror at the devastation of knowledge

Well, libraries are unfortunately of finite size. They have to make room for the new stuff somehow.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:55 PM on July 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


"I ask myself what possessed some staff person to stick a barcode on something so awful and outdated EVEN in the mid 90’s in 2009 it is just SAD!"

Because it's worthwhile to learn from mistakes past? Hello?
posted by Laotic at 12:07 AM on July 14, 2009


Here's an example of a book that has aged surprisingly well. How to Lie With Statistics, first published in 1954 and almost totally UNrevised since. I discovered it in my Junior High School library while looking for a short non-fiction book for a book report in 1968 (144 pages). It looked a little outdated at the time with the more-40s-than-50s-style illustrations and references to the Kinsey sex study and cigarette surveys, but it contained basic truths that are even truer in the Era of Truthiness, Exit Polling and Infographics. And that, sadly, are not widely enough known, except to the people who keep lying with statistics. At one point in my adult life, I considered contacting Darrell Huff when he was still alive about collaborating on an update, but assumed that better writers than I already had and he had obviously said No. It's still a near-perfect book, but I still ponder about a "Lie With Statistics" website with hands-on exercises in Statisticulation (Huff's word) and updates on the latest dubious numbers to make the news.

If this book ever makes the Awful Library Books blog, I will renounce them entirely.
posted by wendell at 12:17 AM on July 14, 2009 [7 favorites]




I agree with Pinback, there's something off about the tone of this blog. These old books are harmless, interesting even, as long as readers are aware that they're not the final word on the subject.

Assuming there's enough room to house them, couldn't they just be given stickers that say: "This book was published in 1959 and parts of it are out of date. If you'd like to read about recent developments in rocket science, a librarian can help you."

Every book should be read with a critical eye - these books just teach that lesson in technicolour. I dread the day that the world's books have been so successfully 'weeded' that all trace of our human fallibility has been erased.
posted by embrangled at 12:33 AM on July 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


As per some discussions above, and the tone of the weblog, this is why, in my work with textfiles.com, I make a stink when people call me a library or indicate I should somehow work with libraries. I run an archive, I'm an archivist, and I don't chuck stuff out based on my terrible little 2009-era brain making decisions of value. Libraries do. And while I used to get angry about this, I came around to understanding why.

The purpose of most libraries, with few exceptions, are to serve as public housing of community education and knowledge. That is, to provide a shared space for books and media and other services that would be prohibitively expensive for each individual person in the community to have. Instead of 500 people having a DVD copy of Lethal Weapon that they're going to watch once or twice, let there be a place they all pay into that has Lethal Weapon on DVD they can pull from. A few people are going to want the $799 Deluxe Lethal Weapon or Die Hard for themselves, but the library serves its function for the rest. And it's an important function, in many cases, since otherwise people might not have a quiet place to read or access to so many magazines or be able to read all of a science fiction series without travelling to get stuff, and so on. They are good.

Once this difference in mission and outlook is understood, it becomes much easier to sort out other, higher-level differences of opinion. The fact that libraries have book sales, for example, where they clean out their own collections by finding the least-checked-out books or the ones replaced by newer copies. Or when a library scuttles a whole range of historical encyclopedias and sections of such material to make a childrens' section. Terrible if you're an archivist. Excellent if you're serving the needs of your community.

Just this past week, I took delivery/donation of 12,000+ computer journals and magazines dating back to the 1970s, including hand-made manuals and first drafts of documents centered around the Free Software Foundation. I've been cataloging them and binning them up, preparing them to be stored and referenced and otherwise being available to future generations who will want to know the progression of ideas, prove when something happened, understand why certain choices we live with came about, and a thousand other reasons I am incapable of seeing in my present-soaked mind. This approach is incompatible with others' outlooks, who ask me in all seriousness "So, you're going to scan them and then recycle them?"

Back to the tone of the blog being linked in this post, there's that sense of superiority and smugness that I've seen in too many online/hip librarians, this being an arbiter of culture and what is cool that honestly tarnishes the role they contain for their communities. The gold standard for this misguided attitude is Why you should fall to your knees and worship a librarian but there are others, just as bad, that smack of trying to indicate you are more than you are.

(Similarly, an archivist is someone who archives, and while I might have knowledge in a subject, I do my best to ensure people can get to my archives without wasting any time dealing with me or being forced to listen to my rants or opinions to get to the stuff.)

The library, as a function of shared space for knowledge and community, may never go out of style, but the attitude by some lirbarians about their place in the world should definitely do so.
posted by jscott at 12:35 AM on July 14, 2009 [40 favorites]


I understand the "Ohmigoditsabooksaveitsaveit" concept, but as mr_roboto pointed out, there's a limit to what can be kept.

Libraries provide a service. They are (amongst other things) a repository for information that anyone with a library card can access. They are there to entertain, but also to educate. In poorer communities, they may well be the only access some people have to books. Imagine trying to pick up a better job by teaching yourself about computers and all they have are some perfectly sound books from the Atari age. It's all LOL-worthy right until you get to the hundred-deep line to apply for the office job you wanted or hand in that important essay that will get you a better grade.

If you want old, quaint, weird crap then either go to a second-hand book store, an op-shop or an archive. Or, you know, the Library of Congress (or nearest national equivalent).

Shallowness is an element of perspective - I can't seem to see it from over here. Must be a trick of the light or something.
posted by ninazer0 at 12:40 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why Suzie hates you and loves The Cure

IT'S NOT SUZIE ANYMORE, MOM! FOR THE LAST TIME, IT'S COMTESSE GETHSEMANE TREMERE! OMIGOD!
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:46 AM on July 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


Fabulous archive jscott.
posted by tellurian at 12:47 AM on July 14, 2009


I consumed all the posts on this blog in one sitting when I found it linked off of Bookslut (I think). I don't get a feeling of hipper-than-thou from the posts - I get a sense that librarians are cracking jokes about a task that's necessary to keep a library functioning well (which many libraries seem to have fallen behind on, judging from how many of the outdated books come through ILL).

The blog authors have posted a few times about objections to weeding out books like these. From a recent post: For the civillians in the crowd who might be horrified that we are destroying culture or censoring ideas, let me clarify a few points about this blog. Public libraries, at least in my humble opinion, have a mission to help folks navigate the increasingly abundant minefield of information. In my little corner of Michigan, we are looking at 10% or better unemployment and record numbers of foreclosures. Folks that are in trouble often head to the public library where the Internet and other materials will be available for use. Librarians have the duty and responsibility to provide accurate and helpful information. Out of date books often can cloud this objective for the general public and the librarians charged with serving them.

Many of the books they list could fit into special collections somewhere, but in their request for submissions, they write: Remember our criteria for an awful library book : it has to be in a regular public library collection, serving regular patrons. Special and university collections don’t count!. So it's not so much erasing knowledge as rearranging it to better serve the needs of their own patrons.
posted by zhwj at 12:48 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


LOL...this reminds me of a book report i had to write in high school where we had to do a biography. feeling lazy, i grabbed one at random from the public library...a nice small one. turned out it was on Neville Chamberlain, written in 1939, and lauded him as 'the great appeaser'. lord, i wish i still had that paper...i think i made a 'D'
posted by sexyrobot at 1:10 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


On a similar note, my parents have Harmsworth's Universal Encyclopaedia from about 1936, which includes a piece on Winston Churchill, noting what a shame it was that such a promising young politician's career effectively terminated so early.
posted by Phanx at 1:39 AM on July 14, 2009


I'm against the idea that all of these books should be weeded out, just because they are old and might be slightly less precise than a modern book on the same topic. When I was a kid, I loved picking out any book older than myself and read it, even the ones I knew full well were a load of shit.

I was recently scouring thru the "theme of the month" books in my lad's classroom: The Solar System.

Got quite a kick out of the many 25-35 year old books with hand drawn illustrations and planets with incorrect number of moons etc.

I was testing him the other day on the planets and the little shit - who is in PRE school, not even grade one - says "No dad! Pluto isn't a planet, it's a minor planet."

Awww, gee, I had no come back either, because I suddenly remembered it being downgraded a few years back. So yeah, even tho' 80% of those books woulda named Pluto as a planet he still knew the real deal. I couldn't agree more, paisley henosis.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:44 AM on July 14, 2009


Clearly the solution to this problem of out-of-date books is to burn them. Burn them ALL.
posted by sunshinesky at 3:19 AM on July 14, 2009


I still have a copy of Rosey Grier's Needlepoint For Men available for anyone who likes American football and tapestry.
posted by mippy at 3:49 AM on July 14, 2009


The two "librarians" that run this site are merely continuations of the long history of censorship. Their bias manifested in the rubric of only providing "quality" books is manifest in the question as to who makes that "quality" judgment. Of course, they do, not you the reader.

Often the worst enemy of a library is the very librarian given custody of a collection. The first rule in collections maintenance: do not let your personal feeling affect your judgment and always "do not harm". So a more professional and objective rule would be to eliminate all books that have a low circulation rate or that were published before a certain date.
posted by mfoight at 3:49 AM on July 14, 2009


Darkstar, I also had a set of 1950s encyclopaedias with colourised photos of 'African natives', and a book written a bit before them which described world religions thus: 'some backward people in Africa still believe in voodoo and magic'. I still remember the red covers, and thinking at the time that there was a definite bias in the articles, but I rather lioved the grandiose way in which they were written, as though England was still the Top Nation.
posted by mippy at 3:51 AM on July 14, 2009


I love the old computer science you sometimes find in libraries. I particularly like those old ones with BASIC code that you could copy from the book to make a working game. Sure, they were primitive, but arguably they were much better introductions to game coding than the mindbogglingly complex textbooks that illustrate the science behind modern computer games.

In 1993, I was eleven and like most right-minded eleven year olds wanted a Mega-Drive. 'They're just a gimmick', my dad would say. 'You'll get one and five minutes later you'll be wanting more games.' And besides, my older brother's computer was still in the loft. 'That will do anything one of those 'consoles' will do, and more', said my dad. And a few days later, I was presented with a dusty Commodore Vic-20, complete with 5KB memory, a tape drive that may or may not have worked, and games with pencil illustrations on the cases that bore little resemblance to the screenshots on the back. (For years, I was convinced that Jet Set Willy was pornographic.)

As the tapes wouldn't load and Blitz didn't hold my attention for too long, I started picking my way through the BASIC book. 10: Gillian Is Ace. 20. Goto 10. RUN. I worked out how to change the colours of the text, making each letter of my name scroll across the screen in rainbow shades. If I spent long enough, I could type up my own game! I thought I'd start with something simpler - a recipe generator, where one could choose the recipe one wanted (out of a choice of three) then see it displayed with a nifty little pixellated rendering of some herbs.

I cracked open the book and typed. And typed. And typed. I had no intention of actually cooking spaghetti bolognaise, of course - I just wanted the option to be available, via BASIC. Three days of telling my mother I needed to LEAVE the computer ON overnight came to an end, and I was finally ready for the final step - RUN and hit enter.

"Syntax Error."
posted by mippy at 3:58 AM on July 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


I'm still trying to convince the husband to give up his biochemistry college textbook. I don't bitch about his calculus and basic chemistry books, since we occasionally used them in reteaching our children.

The books I absolutely treasure are his dad math books: need help in drawing a heptagon with ruler and compass, anyone?
posted by francesca too at 4:57 AM on July 14, 2009


mr_roboto: Well, libraries are unfortunately of finite size. They have to make room for the new stuff more Jodi Picoult and Janet Evanovich and Nicholas Sparks and Michael Connelly somehow.

.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:58 AM on July 14, 2009


Yeah, how dare people read what they want to read!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:16 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I was a teen in the mid-90s I would walk through the stacks of the public library sighing that they just had old books. And the school library, especially, which had a few "Someday man will walk on the moon" -type books. No, we didn't "just" have old books, but we had a lot of old books and they cluttered up the collection.

It makes a library look bad to have books that are old and outdated. It makes it harder to browse. You might be amused or charmed by these books, but I don't think my library's collection on dieting is actually going to be improved by more books on the diet fads of the 70s and 80s... especially for people who actually need up-to-date information on health and nutrition.

Are the books necessarily bad books? No. Do they belong in some libraries and special collections? Absolutely. Give the Soviet Union book to a special collection on the cold war. But when you're at a small public library branch, you have to ask yourself, is this a book that people actually want to read? Is this a book that provides people with useful information? Is it just getting checked out because people want a book, any book, on subject X, or because the children doing their school reports don't think to check the copyright date?

We are constantly weeding for space at my library. We've gotten rid of all the Awful Library Books long ago. We discard fiction from 2004 and 2005 if it's not getting checked out at least once or twice a year. But? We would discard a lot of those books even if we had infinite space.
posted by Jeanne at 5:31 AM on July 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


I love the horrible prediction books that don't come true.

the "people's almanac presents the book of predictions" was published in 1981 and has predictions of just about everything from everyone that was current at that time, the great majority of which are now obviously, and often hilariously wrong

it's exactly what you want
posted by pyramid termite at 5:32 AM on July 14, 2009


Mrs Jones went to a highly respectable college and met up with a few old class mates not long ago, all married types. Out of twenty, two (herself being one) did their own taxes. On money in general a good deal was left to the discretion of the husbands. Ditto real estate, ditto family finance, ditto credit cards, ditto much other money stuff. These were, I should add, nearly all professional women many in fairly responsible positions.

Had they taken this book and read the bits on Life Insurance, Loans, Money Management, Buy and Selling Houses, taxes and charge accounts (you younguns should realize that credit cards as you know them were not all that common thrity years ago), they might be rather less clueless than they are.

Of course we have no idea what's on the inside, it might be nonsense, but given the nature of society at the time, the topics listed seems to take the young housewife pretty seriously. You don't find chapters like that in, say, this.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:40 AM on July 14, 2009


One theme that comes through in the comments on that blog is that "fine, you don't want it, but I'm sure there is someone out there who does, so send it to them". Is that even true? Are there "archive" libraries and permanent collections that want this stuff and don't have it already?
posted by smackfu at 5:45 AM on July 14, 2009


I love me some older history and other ephemera, and I am fortunate to have many, many library culls in my collection. I even have a copy of Victor Vashi's cartoon history of the Russian Revolution, RED Primer for Children and Diplomats.

But hey, Nicholas Sparks and Jodi Picoult are going to provide someone with rich amusement and/or interesting insights into our culture one of these days. Just look at what we can get from this popular 1915 novel:

Of course I know there are women so abominably obsessed with self, they refuse to become mothers, and prefer a café, with tangoing between courses, to a home; such women should have first the ducking stool, and if that isn't efficacious, extermination; they are a disgrace to our civilization and the weakest spot we have.

Now that's entertainment.
posted by timeo danaos at 5:46 AM on July 14, 2009


I also found the tone of that blog really off-putting. The question of what is outdated and what isn't, for an underfunded public library, is a really interesting one, and deserves a lot better than the LOL-errific approach here.
posted by Forktine at 6:12 AM on July 14, 2009


I am more and more convinced that the library of the future will be all Hodgman.
posted by anthom at 6:21 AM on July 14, 2009


We had a bunch of science and reference books at home from the 30s and 40s. They were filled with dangerous experiments and crafts requiring you to buy chemicals from the pharmacy. And that, of course, was where the wheels fell off. No pharmacy near me sold bulk chemicals ("what do you mean you don't sell heavy water?") leaving most of them unperformed. Which is also why I'm here to tell the story.
posted by tommasz at 6:23 AM on July 14, 2009


I don't think you should automatically throw out books abotu the USSR simply because it doesn't exist anymore. But I agree that a library and an archive are different things - a public library, for better or worse, needs to serve the needs of the public. I used to work in one which had a lot of new books while the stacks in the basement were being cleaned out for a huge sale - out of date travel books and computer guides went, but also useful books on knitting and things like Graham Greene and Lord of the Flies.
posted by mippy at 6:36 AM on July 14, 2009


If it's theoretically useful, but never circulates, maybe they should be getting rid of it.
posted by smackfu at 6:39 AM on July 14, 2009


I don't think the bloggers are saying that a book like "Today's Soviet Union" isn't useful or helpful in and of itself. It can indeed be a fascinating cultural artifact.

I think they're only saying that if your local library ONLY has "Today's Soviet Union", and doesn't have anything in his collection that covers the post-Glasnost era, then that's a problem.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:49 AM on July 14, 2009


Aw, I love old books to some degree, especially those about the "future". They have a certain charm to them, and some of them should be kept. Books are the best record of the past, both lifestyle and design wise. I went to junior high and high school in the 90s...my junior high always had an up to date set of World Book, but there were at least three other sets of encyclopedias from the 70s that had woefully outdated information. It was really frustrating at times.

In the 90s, I worked my spare at the library and one of my jobs was destroying old books. I wish I could have saved some, but they were rather racist. I remember this one book about Jamaica that was full of awful stereotypes. Not the kind of thing you want in a high school with a lot of visible minorities.
posted by Calzephyr at 6:50 AM on July 14, 2009


I can see where the tone of the blog is a bit irritating at times, but seriously, there are tons and tons of crappy books that would be better off in a landfill, and no one would miss them. Some of you folks sound like those people who think they're doing the local Goodwill a favor by bringing them 300 crappy LPs from their grandmother's basement.

NO, ABSOLUTELY NO ONE WANTS THESE LONGINES SYMPHONY ALBUMS. NO ONE WANTS THAT ANDY WILLIAMS GREATEST HITS ALBUM FROM 1962, AND IF THEY DO, THERE ARE ALREADY 5 OTHER COPIES OF IT IN EVERY THRIFT STORE IN THIS GREAT NATION OF OURS.

If you think these books are so important, I beg you: go to your next local library book sale on its last day. They will let you fill your car with them for $1 a bag and they will cry with happiness that anyone wants them. Because they have been untouched and wasting space for years and years and years.
posted by the bricabrac man at 7:05 AM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


These books belong in an archive, not in a public library where folks browsing the shelves for information might find them.

I've weeded canning information from the 1940's that might have killed someone. From the government and all, so someone may have assumed that it was still good if we had it. After all, librarians know everything, right?

These items on are on the shelves because MLS librarians tend to hate to weed, but mostly because these libraries have almost no money to buy new books.

This is gallows humour, folks, not mocking the past.
posted by QIbHom at 7:09 AM on July 14, 2009


> The idea of librarians removing or destroying books has always given me a sense of horror at the devastation of knowledge

Public libraries should not be thought of as a timeless depository of all forms of knowledge. They are there to serve the communities they are funded by, and as such the materials they contain will be tailored to meet the community's needs. This is why most libraries will have more novels by Danielle Steele than Oscar Wilde, and why that hilarious "How to Program Your Commodore PET" book should not be taking up space on the shelves.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:18 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos: "I think they're only saying that if your local library ONLY has "Today's Soviet Union", and doesn't have anything in his collection that covers the post-Glasnost era, then that's a problem."

Sure; and maybe that's what the writer of the blog really means, but we're only seeing the destructive side of it. ‘This book is old, throw it out,’ seems like a pretty bad idea if your budget is so shot that you won't be able to afford anything to replace it.

It reminds me a little of the "deletionists" on Wikipedia. These are people who, apparently for lack of anything better to do, go around WP coming up for reasons to delete articles. Deleting things to 'maintain high quality' or 'make room for better content' (which doesn't really make sense on WP, but would in a real library) is laudable to a certain extent — but only if good content is coming in to replace it. Obsessing over the destructive side of things, as the deletionists do and as the blog seems to, is both off-putting and a little scary. It should be a necessary evil, not something that's done with enthusiasm.

If you get rid of "Today's Soviet Union" and it doesn't get replaced by anything on Russia at all, then it seems to me the library is poorer for it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:20 AM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you have a bad book, someone will use it, but if you have no book, they will get a good one via inter-library loan, or use the encyclopedia.
posted by smackfu at 7:24 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


NO, ABSOLUTELY NO ONE WANTS THESE LONGINES SYMPHONY ALBUMS.

Well, now that you mention it, I'm kind of curious whether it's true that it doesn't rest.
posted by kittyprecious at 7:41 AM on July 14, 2009


I agree with most of the comments. I enjoyed looking at all the old books, especially remembering the times when they were more relevant. Or writing book reports on US history books that ended with our mighty savior, General Eisenhower.

And I didn't like the tone. I too thought it was snarky and dismissive. As kadin2048 aptly put, "It should be a necessary evil, not something that's done with enthusiasm.".

On the other hand, I sort of agree with the librarians position. They have a finite building, with finite resources, and an infinite stream of new material coming along. If one looks at a library as an up to date reference tool, yeah, the old stuff has to go.

But shouldn't a library be more than a building-sized encyclopedia? One of the things I love about libraries IS the walk through history. Books are like photographs, they are snapshots in time. Seeing a book bought in 1984 about the USSR, reading it, and thinking about the various assumptions that were right or wrong. That's just not the same as reading a contemporary book that references the older book with a quote here or there. Having older reference material adds depth to any (competently done) research project. Let the reader decide what's relevant. That's the part of the tone I didn't like. "How can junior write a good report with all this old cruft laying around??? What about the children???" That's not the librarian's job, that's the teacher's job.

(That's one of the better aspects of Wikipedia, by the way. The ability to look at older snapshots of pages as history is in the making.)
posted by gjc at 7:46 AM on July 14, 2009


The idea of librarians removing or destroying books has always given me a sense of horror at the devastation of knowledge

It's a good thing you don't work in a law library. We throw away huge amounts of books. Occasionally some well meaning student will suggest we donate them to the public library. Because the public library wants a partial set of outdated laws of states on the other side of the country.
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:50 AM on July 14, 2009


"If you have a bad book, someone will use it, but if you have no book, they will get a good one via inter-library loan, or use the encyclopedia."

Exactly the tone I mean. The presumption that the librarian knows better than the clients. Let the reader decide what's good or bad. The process of weeding through less relevant material in search of more relevant information is a BIG part of the process of education. Critical thinking and all that. The lesson isn't just in producing good results, it's also HOW to produce good results.
posted by gjc at 7:51 AM on July 14, 2009


I should say of course we keep every outdated law book for our state.
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:59 AM on July 14, 2009


NO ONE WANTS THAT ANDY WILLIAMS GREATEST HITS ALBUM FROM 1962

Is that "Andy Williams' Best" on Cadence? I'm really more of a Claudine Longet fan, but I'd take it.
posted by malocchio at 8:09 AM on July 14, 2009


Exactly the tone I mean. The presumption that the librarian knows better than the clients. Let the reader decide what's good or bad. The process of weeding through less relevant material in search of more relevant information is a BIG part of the process of education. Critical thinking and all that. The lesson isn't just in producing good results, it's also HOW to produce good results.

When I worked at the local public library, it was incredibly painful at times. I had my library technician diploma and was shelving books (sigh!). I was not allowed to help customers (strong union, sigh!) but few customers wanted help from the reference desk librarians. I remember a poor kid wanting an Erasure album and the librarian trying to suggest Eraserhead to him. The reference librarians weren't well versed in popular culture, but they could sure find you the GDP of a country quickly. But not all library workers or reference librarians are like that.

Often times the reader though can't tell the difference between good and bad information, which is where knowledge workers come in handy. My art history teachers have made it painfully clear that students are not to use websites that are not indexed art journals, etc.
posted by Calzephyr at 8:20 AM on July 14, 2009


I also found the tone of that blog really off-putting. The question of what is outdated and what isn't, for an underfunded public library, is a really interesting one, and deserves a lot better than the LOL-errific approach here.

The authors of the blog are both 20+-year librarians who are active in more serious collection development and maintenance initiatives in the ALA.

This is the jokey side of the serious work they do every day.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:40 AM on July 14, 2009


dejah420: That goth book was sumbitted to Awful Library Books by MeFi's very own...me.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:06 AM on July 14, 2009


Child abuse book comment:

The title choice is unfortunate, but the author is a highly intelligent, thoughtful retired librarian who is passionate about [the] respectful treatment of children.


I think the comments section needs to be perused for most, if not all of these "outrageous" books.

"Finding ways to be offended" seems to be a popular pastime on metafilter.
posted by Zambrano at 9:10 AM on July 14, 2009


Yeah, there is talk about not judging a book by a cover. Yet, the vast majority of library users will judge a book by the cover. So the cover does matter.
posted by smackfu at 9:34 AM on July 14, 2009


"Exactly the tone I mean. The presumption that the librarian knows better than the clients. Let the reader decide what's good or bad. The process of weeding through less relevant material in search of more relevant information is a BIG part of the process of education. Critical thinking and all that. The lesson isn't just in producing good results, it's also HOW to produce good results."

Um… Gotta say that pretty frequently, librarians—especially those with MLS degrees—do know better than the client for any reasonable standard of research. Finding information and critically evaluating it is a skill that has to be developed, and most librarians take that skill pretty seriously and hone it. I realize this can impart institutional arrogance, but the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of the public are dumbasses. While it would be ideal to have librarians treat every interaction as a teaching experience, the way that academic libraries often do, a lot of patrons are annoyed by that too—they just want the librarian to give them the books, duh.

All that said, I actually took out Everything You Need To Know About The Goth Scene yesterday from our library, expecting some lulz (it was filed right next to Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others). I've taken out the one on punk before, and it was a pretty decent primer if you think of the intended audience of middle schoolers and high schoolers (though it was still pretty funny in its pronouncements on debates within the punk community over what was and wasn't punk, and had hilarious pictures). The best ones out of that series are ones like Terrorism and Drug Abuse, which have some real howlers.

As for the overall project, my girlfriend has been complaining about something they've got in her library that her new director won't let her get rid of—an annual Internet Directory. It's just pages and pages of title and URL, and they have 'em back to BBS days. But they're expensive and functionally useless.
posted by klangklangston at 9:41 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Exactly the tone I mean. The presumption that the librarian knows better than the clients. Let the reader decide what's good or bad.

Who teaches the readers how to tell what is good or bad? I really do wish this was taught in school. Unfortunately, it isn't, so your basic 4th grader has no idea if that book on the Soviet Union is old, bad, historic, current, etc.

I once was asked by a high school (grade 12) honours student to help research her paper on, "how genocide affects people." You are saying I should have walked away from that?
posted by QIbHom at 9:42 AM on July 14, 2009


How does genocide affect people? Well, that depends. Do these people need more lebensraum and lampshades?
posted by klangklangston at 10:00 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


need help in drawing a heptagon with ruler and compass, anyone?

Wait, you mean they don't do that anymore?

I did notice that they don't sell the sharp metal compasses anymore. Ah, the stabbings I remember...
posted by cereselle at 10:16 AM on July 14, 2009


From my Middle East studies personal library, I finally dumped, maybe three months ago, the 1987 edition of "The Soviet Union in the Middle East."
posted by etaoin at 10:21 AM on July 14, 2009


Public libraries have one kind of mission, which is defined by their communities and available resources (money, staff, space).

Research libraries have another kind of mission (thanks be to God).

I remember with great fondness being able to roam the main stacks of the University of Illinois (I was a graduate assistant in the library school; the average student didn't have those privileges) and finding old Sears, Roebuck catalogs dating from the 1920s to the 1970s.

The real tragedy is when public and school libraries get rid of stuff that archivists/research librarians would love to have. Kathleen Norris, in her book Dakota, writes about school librarians thoughtlessly dumping old yearbooks and bound volumes of newspapers. Historical artifacts--in the right hands and in the right places.

jscott, I'm glad you're archiving those computer journals!
posted by apartment dweller at 10:25 AM on July 14, 2009


"No dad! Pluto isn't a planet, it's a minor planet."

as an aside, just in case anyone was wondering what the point was of the whole "planet/not a planet/minor planet" debate...well this picture should be proof enough that ther's more than nine planets

/derail

also...i love old telescopic illustrations of mars, with all the canals and strange webbing across its face...
posted by sexyrobot at 10:43 AM on July 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Exactly the tone I mean. The presumption that the librarian knows better than the clients. Let the reader decide what's good or bad. The process of weeding through less relevant material in search of more relevant information is a BIG part of the process of education. Critical thinking and all that. The lesson isn't just in producing good results, it's also HOW to produce good results.


Well, there are standard methods for weeding library collections, which are well-developed through theory and practice, and start with the most basic measures: whether books are being used or not (one approach might be to go through the collection, look at every book that hasn't been borrowed for ten years, or twenty years, and then consider it for deletion. In the last academic library I worked in, we started by doing that, and then gave every librarian and academic a chance to request that any book be retained, even if it hadn't been borrowed. So nothing is ever removed purely because a librarian says so - if it's being used, it stays).

In this case though, we're talking about public libraries, and the sad reality is that public libraries have no money and no space. If they want to add new computer texts, or new novels, they have to get rid of some old ones.

It's the job of special, research, and academic libraries, and archives, to maintain historical collections, not public libraries.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:58 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would be sad if old books like these were removed from libraries just because they seem quaint or out of date.

I came here to say what Infinite Jest said. A public library collects items differently than an academic library or government library, and some libraries have a specific mission for archival purposes. Our local university has well-known archival collections of gay/lesbian materials, comic book art, and popular culture as well as many others. Part of the mission of these archival libraries is preservation--you can go there and look at things, but you can't take them out. A librarian watches you. You can only use the pencils they provide to take notes. Etc.

A public library serves a not-especially-well-educated or discerning public. Their materials circulate under rough conditions. Space is often very limited (you should see my local public library branch!). Archiving is not their job. Something like the roller disco book or what's-her-name's beauty tips is probably just harmless clutter, but out-of-date information is dangerous.
posted by not that girl at 3:26 PM on July 14, 2009


A public library that doesn't weed for the kind of books listed on this blog would be like a supermarket that doesn't remove food past its expiration date from the shelves. Sure, I can go around and check all the packages of bread for mold to make sure I'm getting good stuff, but I'd prefer it if the supermarket itself would ensure that what I get there is of good quality.
posted by Ms. Saint at 6:27 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Many current texts... already seem out of date.
posted by ovvl at 8:19 PM on July 14, 2009


My university library - the third biggest in the country - had an archival branch with medieval books across town, and the main library, a labyrinthine building with bound copies of popular novels of academic interest and scripts for The Full Monty alongside law and science. There was a book in there called 'The Mongol', with a picture of a down syndrome boy on the front. Obviously, that wouldn't be in a public library any longer, but was of interest - partly for the developmental insights, and partly for the way in which our perceptions of mental conditions have changed.
posted by mippy at 3:08 AM on July 15, 2009


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