POTSDAM — Every book deserves a home, until it doesn’t.
But the decision to recycle books was a controversial one to Potsdam Public Library Head of Technical Services Xan VanArsdale, who has, over the past several months, taken on the painstaking task of moving around the collection of 75,000 books in preparation for the coming renovation to the library’s interior.
“Every book in here has been touched, moved, shifted and now we are getting down to the nitty gritty, touch it, figure out if it needs to go, if it needs to stay as part of the collection, if it needs to have a new life somewhere else, if it needs to be renewed, as in do we buy a new copy,” Ms. VanArsdale said. “There are some books that are still in really good condition but may be duplicated or haven’t circulated from our collection but look brand new, so we offer them to other libraries. We’ve done a bit of that and some of the smaller libraries don’t have budgets like we do or maybe they are filling a hole in a series or a book has gone missing and so they will snatch them up.”
As part of library’s budget, many of the children’s books will be replaced, but a replacement of the adult books was something that Ms. VanArsdale said hasn’t been done thoughtfully and purposefully as a project in the 14 years she has been there.
“But now that we are buying less because we have less space and we are getting ready to do the renovation, I’m putting more money and effort into replacing books that we know are read or are classics that we have to have on the shelf but are in bad condition,” she said. “I don’t want something coming out of my library that looks like this.”
She thumbed through a book where the binding glue was dry and the pages were coming away from its spine. In some instances, the covers were torn and some of the children’s books had pages that were taped where they were previously ripped.
Then there are the books that have reached the end of their lives, which she calls “our sad babies.”
Those are the books that have either been “read to death” or haven’t been taken off the shelves for a significant amount of time. Searching through the system, there was one book that hadn’t been circulated since 1995.
“Our sad babies,” she said, laughing, as she stood among the aisles of books soon to be subjected to a “book breaking party.”
“A book breaking party, yeah, they have to go somewhere,” she said. “Theoretically, books are recyclable if they are broken down in the correct way. The covers are separated from the guts of the book and the guts are recyclable the covers are not.”
That’s with hardcovers. Paperbacks are a different story, depending upon what the cover is made out of, Ms. VanArsdale said.
“It’s extremely controversial and, at first, when I saw books end up in the recycling bin, I was heartbroken and I just didn’t understand,” she said. “As an avid reader I asked, how can books end up in a recycling bin. I just was like nope, that is not a place for books. Every book deserves a home.”
But she said she has since changed her mind.
“I think if a book has been read to death, then it’s had its time and it can be replaced with something that’s in better condition, because I would be horrified about sending a book that’s split in two and is spilling out its guts,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to do that. They don’t have to be pristine, but they have to be readable.”
Additionally, certain texts, like health, science, or computer books have become outdated and those books also end up being recycled, to avoid circulating misinformation.
The books that are on their way to the “book-breaking party” are piling up in the back of the library and are free for the taking, Mr. VanArsdale said, and there are a few gems in there, but it may take a little digging.
“We would like to re-home them. I would like to say that some of them are in a condition that are fairly unreadable and definitely belong in a recycling bin, having said that, being forewarned if you are OK with reading a book that may split in two on you, or missing pages, there are books that are just past their lifespan in our library,” she said.
Anyone interested in perusing the discarded library books should check in with the front desk to be sure they have been properly discarded and that they don’t end up back on the library shelves and back in to circulation, which Ms. VanArsdale said can easily happen.
“If people do want to take them, I would love for them to take them, but the book sale doesn’t want them after they have them and we don’t want them back either,” she said. “So if you take them, they are yours, forever and ever and ever . . . until they fall apart, then they can recycle them properly.”