For the last few weeks, I have been doing this internship at the Hyde Park Free Library. The bulk of my time so far has been dedicated to setting up their official Facebook page and working on other online endeavors. But this past Thursday, the library director, Greg, asked me if I wanted to help him with weeding. (For those not in the library world, weeding is what it sounds like: removing books from the collection that nobody is reading). Eager for the experience, I responded with a resounding “Oh hell yes!” and got to work.
The idea of weeding is appealing to me I think because I’m always looking for ways to downsize and streamline in my own life. I bought a Nook so that I could have one device instead of many books. I don’t collect things just to collect them. If I own an item, it’s generally because I intend for it to be used, and if it’s not used, I usually have no problem getting rid of it. Maybe I’ve been watching a little too much Hoarders, but the idea of streamlining the collection sounded fantastic. (As an aside, I kind of wished we were weeding out that copy of Snooki’s book sitting on the New shelf and throwing it back into the stinking pit of deepest Hell from which it came, but I can’t get everything I want.) I also figured this would be a good chance to write a blog entry about my experience. So here I am, writing a blog entry!
Basically, the process went like this: For the last twelve years or so, the library has been using a program called Millennium to do pretty much everything with the materials they have (checking out, checking in, putting on hold, sending to other libraries, etc etc etc). Greg made a print out of all of the books that hadn’t circulated in the entire time they’ve had Millennium–so, yeah, nobody had read these books in at least twelve years. Then I just took the list, found the books on the shelves, took them out of the computer system (by marking them as “discard”), stamped them with a fun DISCARDED stamp and blacked out the barcode. (Well, there was a little more to it than that–I looked to see if Hyde Park was the only library with the book. If no other library in the system had it, I would put it aside for Greg to look at and decide. Same for “classic” authors. Nobody had taken out a Balzac book in God-knows-how-long but I felt funny just discarding it, so I put it aside for Greg to look at before getting rid of it.)
So, now my observations! What did I learn about people’s reading habits? What kinds of patterns emerged among these unwanted books?
Well, it seems like people don’t like political fiction. There was a noticeably large number of books on the list that had to do with Washington D.C., 1960s and 70s politicians and saucy political intrigue. Yeah, so apparently people aren’t so into that anymore. I suspect that there was a time (maybe in the 70s?) when they were all about it, but not anymore. Not even when the book is about a senator’s erectile dysfunction and has a provocative cover that would make nearly anybody’s inner 11-year-old snicker.
With a lot of the political fiction, I think it just dates itself eventually. Titles written in the political climate of the 60s and 70s aren’t necessarily going to be appealing to the people of today. Politics as a topic is by its nature timely and always changing. While people at the moment may be greatly interested in the latest astoundingly dumb thing to come out of Rick Santorum’s mouth, they don’t generally care anymore about the trysts of Bill Clinton.
And the covers…you may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but while this sweet line drawing of Benjamin Disraeli may have been appealing to your average reader forty years ago, it doesn’t quite grab you as intended these days.
So if you want to write a book that endures through the ages, it seems like it might not be advisable to write one about politics or politicians, even if they do have a tawdry love affair or erectile dysfunction.