Posted by: Emily | July 22, 2008

Processing stacks of gift books

One of our big jobs during the summer is processing ‘gifts.’ At the end of the school year, as students pack up and head for points north, south, east, and west, many look at their year’s worth of books, look at the prices of shipping and storage, and then look at the library, this hallowed repository of books, and decide to haul their books here as a donation. A gift. It’s difficult for me to face with joy this giant pile of books that are usually already represented multiple times in our collections (if we’re talking course books, we usually have a few copies from the reserve desk). Sometimes we do get gifts that are meaningful. I’m thinking particularly of an anonymous fellow who wants our library to have extensive alternative viewpoints about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and regularly fills out our collection quite nicely. Otherwise, I end up spending a lot of time taking books “down to the loading dock,” a librarian-ly euphemism for the shelves where we hold books for awhile before discarding them in ways I won’t discuss here.

And did anyone else experience a conversion similar to mine when I started working in libraries? In my former life, I coveted books above all things, bought lots of them and displayed them, packed them and moved them across the country, would not think of just throwing one in the garbage can. But now I regularly take whole book carts full of them to the loading dock in the sky, and treat libraries like my own personal collections–it is a rare book that makes its way to my own personal pared down bookshelves. How has working in a library changed the way you think about books as objects? As gifts?



  1. Emily, I can relate to this so much. I have always been a total bookperson. I have boxes and boxes of books that I willingly and happily move from apartment to apartment. But once I started working in libraries, I realized: “Um, I never have to buy another book ever again. I can borrow it from my library or ILL it from somewhere else.” This realization made me kind of sad, because browsing in a bookstore is one of my favorite things to do. And it still is. But I’m more selective now. And I’m more willing to let go of the books I do have. I’ve pared down my selection significantly over the past few years. And in recent months, I’ve been buying new books, and as soon as I’ve read it, I sell it to Half-Price Books. Being a librarian and working in libraries has definitely made me feel less attached to books as objects, and as gifts. I’m more willing to let go.

  2. I was a book store junkie… coffee and books seemed like a great way to spend an afternoon. I rarely go to the bookstore now (except for a locally excellent used book store that carries both the common and the unusual).

    About summer projects. I organized two this year. The second has been huge. I can’t say what it is yet until we are done… but wow is it tedious.

    The loading dock is synonomous to book sale….Last week we recieved microfilm donations from a retired professor. Some of them were previously lost material from our own collection! They still had our stamp on the boxes. Thanks for …..ahem…..donating.

  3. […] the librarian side, I’m not so sure that this is typical. Two of the librarians where I work are definite pack-rats. Two are not. I haven’t […]

  4. I am moving out of my apartment right now, and have been astonished and appalled by how many books I actually have! Those suckers are HEAVY. I haven’t actually had the conversion of which you speak, but I have flirted with it. Part of the problem is that I have an odd obsession with obscure textbooks and anthologies and I enjoy scouring used bookstores for them.

    The other librarians where I work are sometimes surprised by my packrat tendencies during weeding. I guess techy librarians are supposed to despise all things paper?

  5. Books have definitely lost their sanctity since I started working in libraries. It would be amazing if we had pristine copies of every book we ever deemed worth having– well, the literary stuff, anyway, not necessarily the “report books”– but there’s just no room on our shelves for the dilapidated and out-of-date. And when I consider that only 1-2% of books stay in print, i.e., deemed of current value in the marketplace, it seems wise to not grow *too* attached to anything. That said, I look forward to the day– fingers crossed– when we can buy formerly out-of-print books print-on-demand.

  6. Personally, I can’t read library books without feeling dirty. There’s just something slutty about them, the way they spread their pages for anyone. Not that I’m at all conflicted about pimping them out for a living. If you’re into sloppy seconds, who am I to judge? But I will check titles out from the library now and then before making purchases or adding them my wish list, the better to assess their worthiness for my private collection. It’s the only way to suppress my biblibido while surfing through Amazon. Ultimately, though, my increased selectivity with respect to my purchases has been less a function of the library’s vast resources than of my increased familiarity with the literary terrain of my interests.

    I don’t like to receive books as gifts any more than I like to give them, not unless they come directly from my wish list. There’s just something very annoying to me about someone thinking that I would or should be interested in this or that book. I might even get paranoid, wondering if my would-be benefactor is trying to drive a wedge between me and the subjects that do interest me, except that in the end, for the most part, I decide that the person is simply not that cunning.

  7. I’ve noticed that in the past two years, I’ve started asking “Is this book in the library?” before I buy it or bring it to my new home.

    I’m going to go through my 9 boxes of books I just hauled down to Philly and try and sell some of the heavier volumes that I really don’t “need” to have with me at all times.

    Books I definitely keep: reference works that I cannot live without (501 German Verbs, Joy of Cooking, Miss Manners’ Guide to Etiquette), books that are not readily available in libraries, or books that I read over and over and want to mark up.

    This includes Neil Gaiman books, stuff like “Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day,” “Three Bags Full” (a sheep’s murder mystery! the sheep are the detectives!!), and comic books. Books I mark up tend to be foreign language books, as I’ll want to write in definitions.

    Most people I know freak out when I tell them that libraries throw away books – what do they think happens?

  8. I was much more acquisitive about books when I worked in bookstores than I am now that I’m a librarian.

    Maybe it was that the books had “value” then, because they were a commodity, that I felt the need to own them. Or maybe I’ve just moved in and out of too many 5th floor walk-ups since then to want to own very many books anymore.

    But yeah, now I’m with you on treating libraries as my own personal collections.

    Because of that I keep track now of what I’ve read, so I can remember the books and go back to them without having the visual cue of having them in my apartment.

  9. “Because of that I keep track now of what I’ve read, so I can remember the books and go back to them without having the visual cue of having them in my apartment.”

    I do that too! It’s like we trade our personal book collections for personal metadata collections.

    I’d be interested in a survey of how everybody keeps their booklists. As you can tell, I’m pretty much roped to my computer, but my booklists, well, those are kept the old fashioned way, using pens and paper.

  10. Why, for example, do I have a copy of “Psuedo-Dionysis” on my shelf, from a particularly bad course on mysticism junior year of college? To think, I have lugged that think from River to Goutam’s apartment (that’s how old it is!) to Furnald to Boston back to the upper west side, and then to Brooklyn, the upper east side, two different places in Chicago and now Milwaukee. And the damn thing wasn’t even worth reading 12 years ago! Thanks, Emily, I am totally putting it in the recycling bin RIGHT NOW.

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