Friday, 12 November 2010
For the past few months at work, my fellow library assistant and I have been weeding. No, we haven’t been yanking out the wireweed and soursob. There are gardeners to do that. Our job has been to get the old and little-used books off the library shelves to make way for new ones. According to a course I went to a couple of years ago, library shelves should be no more than sixty percent full at any one time. Ours were a whole lot fuller than that. In fact, at the end of each term, when all the books were back in the library, we had to stack them on top of each other. Not only does it make the library look messy and overcrowded, but it also makes it harder for people to actually find a good book.
Our rules for selecting books to be weeded were simple. Firstly, if they were tatty, they went. I’d love to be the author of a tatty book (maybe I should write a book entitled ‘The Tatty Book’?). Tatty implies read. Books don’t get dog-eaten corners and loose pages by sitting cuddled by two other books on a shelf. Tatty books have seen the inside of a fair few school bags and desks. Tatty books have been stuffed under pillows when Mum has come close to finding the torch in bed. Of course, if the book was really popular and unlikely to be replaced in the near future, we’d do our best to fix it, rather than putting it into the ‘weeds’, but sometimes there’s just nothing that can be done.
Secondly, if the book was published before 2000, then it was a candidate for the weed box. Again, if it was still regularly coming off the shelf, it would be left there. If it was a classic, it would stay. I’m not going to throw out something like the Narnia Chronicles simply because they were written more than ten years ago. The flaw in this, of course, is that a book might be a future classic. But we figured that if children weren’t reading it now, then they probably didn’t think it was one worth keeping.
It was a rather sad task to check the number of borrowers and delete the books from the catalogue. In some cases, not only were the books older than ten years, but they hadn’t been borrowed in the last 10 years. I found one book that had been purchased in 1995 and hadn’t had a single borrower - ever! Doesn’t that sound like the scenario for a writer’s nightmare? It wasn’t a bad book either. In fact, it looked quite interesting to me. But for the past fifteen years it had sat on the shelf, avoiding the hands of hundreds of school children.
Yes, I’d much rather my book was a tatty book.
(By the way, the book shown on top of the pile in the photo on this post, has 44 years worth of tattiness to it. I know I could replace it, but I loved it so much as a child, a new one just wouldn't be the same.)