Q&A: The fate of old library books

Many factors decide books' fate

When the main library on Ninth Avenue (in St. Petersburg) reopened after renovation, it soon became evident that all the old books had disappeared and the shelves were full of only books that had bright colorful new covers. What did they do with all the old books?

For an answer we turned to Angela Pietras, St. Petersburg Public Library System's main library coordinator. Her response:

"The St. Petersburg Public Library System is a 'popular materials' library. Decisions to add or remove library materials from the collection are based on the guidelines in the library's Materials Management Policy. The purpose of the policy is to ensure that the library reaches its goal of providing our citizens with materials and electronic access that reflect the present educational, recreational and cultural interests of the community.

"Maintaining the library's collection is a never-ending task at the public library; it is the library's duty to constantly review materials to ensure that they serve the community's best interests. Staff routinely checks the inventory for items eligible for replacement or removal. While age alone is not reason to discard an item, it is part of the formula when we consider an item's overall physical condition, the currency of the information it contains, its format, its historic value and the level of demand for the material. Space is also a valuable consideration when analyzing which items should be retained and which ones have reached the end of their useful life span.

"Given a choice, we prefer to stock our shelves with materials that look attractive. Reprints of long-time standards are ordered periodically to ensure that these classics are just as alluring to readers as today's new best-sellers. When possible, old items are re-covered to give them a cosmetic boost.

"... What becomes of the items that were removed from the collection during its renovation? Some were sold in our book sales. The best of what we couldn't sell ourselves was passed to our other branch libraries for their sales. And yes, those in poor condition were disposed of.

"The sad fact is that not all books or other items retain value. They begin to fall apart or become too worn or soiled. Information grows obsolete as well: the restaurants recommended in that 5-year-old travel book close down; health and financial information becomes quickly dated; science and technology is changing at warp speed. Readers' tastes also change. Popular materials begin to lose their appeal as readers discover new interests, new authors, new music and new movies.

"All of these factors are considered as the Materials Management Policy is applied when items are either purchased for or removed from the library's collection. Thus, the removal and/or replacement of some materials during the library's recent renovation is simply part of the ongoing process of materials management that helps ensure the library's collection remains a vital source of current information necessary to make business and life decisions in today's complex society."

Q&A: The fate of old library books 08/07/11 [Last modified: Sunday, August 7, 2011 5:30am]

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