Sunday, June 28, 2009

A library story

A semi-local library has a strange annual tradition. At the beginning of summer every year, this small library cleans out its shelves and puts books outside for any library patron (or even simple passerby) to take. These aren't a few weeds here and there that the library removes. Hundreds of books are placed outside and anyone walking by (this is within a larger building, not the street) can take however many he/she chooses. This collection of books is a strange one, with volumes ranging in languages and difficulty levels (classics alongside childrens' comic books), but it's very interesting. People come out of curiosity, convinced they'll find nothing and leave with an armful of books. The books are also different ages: some are fairly modern novels that didn't get a lot of attention from readers and others are ancient hardbacks with dust all along the spine and pages. The purpose of this spring cleaning is obvious. The library, which is small and doesn't have much room for expansion, needs to clear space for new books. Rather than throwing away these at-times falling apart books or selling them, the library chooses to hand them out for free.

There are many pros to checking books out of a library. The books are free, there's always bound to be a wide variety, etc. For some readers the library isn't enough. I, for instance, thoroughly enjoy rereading books. I like being able to pick a book up at any moment and know that I can set it aside whenever I like, without having to renew or return the book. There are many advantages to owning books and the two often come head-to-head. Many feel that purchasing books is wasteful; some think that checking books out from the library is too much effort. Used bookstores serve as an in-between. This case goes even further.

Nobody ever complains about book gifts. To receive a gift is a pleasure, not a frustration. Worries about space for the books become almost irrelevant when you don't pay for them. Even if you don't get around to reading them, the guilt sensation of not finishing a book before returning it to the library isn't there. For the library giving away books, this scenario works well too. They get rid of books and don't have live with the shame that they threw them out. Many libraries do similar things with book sales, but looking at some of these books (one of which literally has dust climbing out of the pages) makes me wonder if that's the right way for the libraries to make money. With the exception of one brand-new book (still in its wrapping), all these books are clearly used. Some to the point where any price would be too high, either because the book is falling apart or because my level of interest in the book is so low there's no chance I'd ever spend even a cent on it. However, when offered for free, I grabbed these books no questions asked. And, I suppose, even the most ardent of library supporters would not hesitate to do the same.

There is no particular lesson to be learned from this, just observations. I wonder if other libraries have similar "give away" policies and if, indeed, other readers find this form of book acquisition suitable. In the meantime, I'll enjoy the books I managed to grab and await next year's stacks of "unwanted" books, where I might once again find a few gems.

7 comments:

  1. wow, having a library sale like this would be so awesome. I tend to experiment a lot with genre's if the book is for free or for a very small price. That way even if I don't like it I won't feel very bad about not liking or reading it.

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  2. In my experience the campus library tends to give away books that are either very old (cracked spine, loose pages) or that are almost not circulated at all. Public libraries weed out books that earn the one-way ticket to sale premise.

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  3. I miss American libraries - one of the things I put in my "downers of being an expat" column. If libraries can sell some books, I think its great, if the books are too worn and they give them away, that's great too. More books for everyone.

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  4. I lived near a library once that did something similar. It weeded throughout the year. They usually had one or two bookcarts-full sitting in the entryway for patrons to take books from for free. I found some good books that way.

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  5. It's great that they are not actually throwing them away but recirculating them. I don't know of libraries that do this, ours all have annual sales. And I probably would pick up one or two extra if they are free, knowing that if I didn't get to them personally I could pass them on to someone else. That's the great thing about books, they can be recirculated indefinitely. I'd love to hear which books you picked up at the giveaway.

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  6. I have a giveaway shelf in my library as well. I ask for donations in exchange but don't require them. It's weird to me that the library wouldn't try to make a little money from its castoffs but good for them.

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  7. That's an interesting policy. Our library doesn't give away books - we have a huge book sale once a year but a lot of those books are not sold, but many more are. It's a huge amount of work though and for a small-ish library I'm not sure it would be worth the effort. I think it's great your library does this giveaway.

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