Lisa Librarian: T is for Trashed

Books are magic. I will always believe that. But, after being a librarian for about 20 years, individual copies of books are just things to me. They are purchased, read, and eventually thrown away. Yes, pitched right into the bin. Every year I put dozens of books into the trash.

Before you start yelling at me, let me make it clear that most of these books have been well-loved. They are the tattered, chocolate-stained, coffee-ringed, water-damaged proof that the love of reading is alive and well– especially in the bath, beach or other water filled locales.

Not all the books have such charmingly innocent stains. Some of the tomes I throw into the rubbish have wavy pages distorted with yellowish stains. I try not to think about the source of the discoloration as I wash my hands over and over and over, and ponder investing in a company that makes plastic gloves or decontamination suits.

Please understand that most people do not pee on, or allow other humans or animals in their household to urinate on library books. And even fewer people return the pee-covered books to the library. (Note to anyone with pee-covered library books. Do not bring them back. We no longer want them. Simply throw them away and come in and tell us what happened. We’ll believe you without the evidence.)

A surprisingly large contingent of patrons write in public books. Years ago I would often find corrections to the author’s grammar, spelling, or style penciled in to the pages. Not so much anymore. I do discover a tremendous amount of phone numbers scribbled on the inside covers. I have often wanted to call these numbers, but never have. Appointments to hair salons, doctor’s offices and the like are frequently noted in library books. Some folks let their kids use the endpapers as coloring books.

And then some are simply mysterious. Just recently I found the following written on the first page of a book:


Combination to a safe?  Ages? Measurements? Oddly formatted phone number? Any ideas?

On the last page of another title:


Commentary on a fairly innocent romance? Thoughtful reminder to family member with hygiene issues? You decide.

Library Books: Not Just for Reading Anymore.


11 responses to “Lisa Librarian: T is for Trashed

  1. Many years ago, I brought back an herb book to the library and told the young girl at the desk that my dog loved the book so much I’d like to buy it.

    In truth, that rascally pooch tore off the cover.

    I paid for the book and the girl proceeded to pry the book out of my hands.

    ‘You can’t have it’, she told me.

    I stared at her in disbelief. ‘Miss, I just bought that book.’

    Still she wouldn’t let go.

    By this time the head librarian walks over and the girl shows her the money then dutifully tells her that I won’t give up the book.

    The head librarian rolled her eyes then snapped at the poor kid. ‘If she paid for it, it’s her book.’

    I still have that book–and the memory!

    PS Thank you for throwing out the really stained books. I’ve never encountered such a book at the library and now I know why.

    • I have encountered many such books and hope you never do. Love the library story–what did the staff member who wanted to keep it plan to do with it?!

  2. Obviously a peed-on book would be an exception, but I hope the ones that aren’t in such bad shape are offered to the public or first… :0
    (Sorry — I’ve had trouble getting anything over 15 years old from our library lately and have become quite stodgy about this issue!)

    • I only remove what HAS to go, but paperback books are just not meant to last through the ages. If a book is in decent condition, but we don’t want quite so many copies, it goes to the Friends of the Library bookstore. I have tons of books which are older–and I replace anything I can with new books, or books gathered from the Friend’s Bookstore. Really, really have to get rid of books which smell, are moldy, or generally disgusting, though.

  3. Yay! Glad to hear it. 🙂
    *walks away, complaining about dryer lint*

    • Connie Willis’s book Bellewether has a character who checks out books from the library just so they are not removed from the collection. I love that book. And I hate dryer lint.

      • What’s up with dryer lint? Belly button lint is much more offensive. Not that I know anything about that lint in library books…

  4. You know, Lisa, some of my happiest moments in life are weeding my collections. I secretly get so excited if I find a book that is beyond hope and needs to go to the big library in the sky. I especially love finding totally outdated, awful books that were somehow missed and put them on the withdrawal cart so that they can be euthanized. You know, typing this out makes me sound both psychotic and pathetic both at the same time. And you know what? It’s okay. Those books have served their purpose and, unless they are in 10 pieces, they will be offered to the public. RIP, little library books. Excuse me… I guess I didn’t take my pills this morning.

    • Um, yeah, TOL here. Must be a librarian thing. Passive aggressive, emphasis on the aggressive, eh?

      That’s okay, I used to semi-secretly skin books (dead or alive) and turn them into purses. Tastes like chicken.

  5. I can’t EVER get rid of books. Unlike the rest of the population (or at least those who use the library) can read a book and it looks like it’s never been read. All our books look new.

    We have moved so many times, you would think we would get rid of them, but I just can’t part with books. It’s strange, but I just love books so much. Jay (my husband) on the other hand, gets rid of books and in a year or two goes “I had this book…..I want to read it…where is it?” Then we end up buying it AGAIN.

    Thanks to our Kindles, we will be saving some trees, and I’ll never have to part with the books I download!

    • I can’t make the Kindle leap quite yet. I’m still fixated on the paper format–even when it gets gross from over-use. Maybe someday…

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