Is it a Sin to Throw a Book Away?

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life 2 Comments

People have a hard time throwing books away. How do I know this? I work in a library. We have people calling us daily asking where they can bring their books to donate. In the interest of maintaining good relations with the public, we will accept them, but always with the caveat that “if we can’t use them in the collection, they may be sold or discarded.” Most people are fine with this. And 99% of the time, the books end up being discarded. So in a way, the library is helping perform a service….throwing out books which people find too painful to do for themselves.

We rarely have this feeling of attachment to old cooking equipment, clothes, or the toys our children no longer play with….but books are different. We treasure the hours we spend with our books, and it would seem cruel to toss them out. So the books are donated to a library in hope they will be granted a second life.

Sometimes objects should have a second life. If clothes are still serviceable, they should be donated. If the toys are not broken and can be cleaned, ditto. In most cases, books are another story. This may sound like sacrilege coming from a writer and librarian, but it is okay to throw books away.  Some people suggest that the books should be donated to less developed nations, but libraries have been down this road with very poor results.  The cost of packing and shipping books is immense, and as the people of those nations would be better served by new books in their native language, there are better ways to get information to the developing world.

 Here are a few tips to know when to toss a book:

  • It is dirty, stained, or musty.
  • Outdated books. You know the ones….Computers for Dummies dating back to 1985. Or how to make a macramé vest for your boyfriend. This type of book has outlived its useful life, and should be put out of its misery.
  • You know you will never read the book again, and it is so widely available even the used bookstores are not accepting copies of it.
  • You have tried to sell or donate it, but you can’t. If no one picked it up at your garage sale, the library didn’t want it, and even Good Will won’t take it…this is a clue that the book may have served its useful purpose.

One of my favorite blogs is Awful Library Books, where librarians nominate the worst books from their collections. This site is a hoot, and I think you’ll agree with me that these books have served their purpose.

*Thanks to Holly Hibner for this groovy example of macramé fun!

Comments 2

  1. mary bailey

    Thanks for the link to Awful Library Books–it looks hilarious!

    I agree about throwing away books. I used to be the librarian at my church and people would donate books that were dirty and mildewed and had bugs in them.

  2. Post

    On the one hand, I appreciate that people want to donate to the less fortunate. I know a man who works for a charity that helps men transition from prison back into society. He said the furniture some people donated was an embarassment. Poor people, including convicts trying to turn their life around, have dignity. Being asked to use a couch that is stained with cat pee or wear clothing that has torn cuffs, is really demoralizing. You don’t want to discourage people from donating….but the trick is learning that sometimes an item has served its useful life!

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