In preparation for renovations to begin in May, the Melvin J. Zahnow Library staff has begun to toss texts in the trash.
According to Zahnow Library Director Anita Dey, the library exhausted other options before discarding the books.
“Librarians, generally speaking, don’t like to throw books away,” Dey said. “Which is why we’d keep them even if they didn’t get checked out.”
Library staff started taking a closer look at their shelves in 2012 when they met with a number of other state university libraries suffering from a lack of space. They decided to share unused texts among themselves and donate or dispose of what was left over.
Texts published before 2005 with little to no circulation were considered for removal. The library considered not only the number of times books were checked out, but also the number of times books were used within the library, so long as they were not returned to their shelves. The information had been collected since about 1997.
Dey noted that many of the books they are removing are copies of books they already have, like older editions. Often, they were donated to the library.
“Faculty would retire, and they’d have an office full of textbooks,” Dey said. “They didn’t want to throw away books, and neither do librarians, so we put them on the shelves. Well, they don’t check out, and all of the sudden, you have third edition, fourth edition, fifth edition and sixth edition.”
After they came up with lists of books they planned to pull, they sent them to deans and departmental chairs on July 1, 2015, and asked them to decide which books they wanted to keep before they started moving the titles in December.
Books that faculty decided not to keep were offered to Better World Books, an organization that works with libraries to find a use for books that they no longer need in their collection.
“Better World Books won’t even take a lot of (the removed books),” Dey said. “They’re not feasible for what they’re doing. A lot of the books are very accessible countrywide.”
Dey said the library stopped selling used books years ago due to complications. She noted that most of what they pulled recently would not have been taken seriously anyway.
They considered recycling the books they pulled instead, but they found that they’d have to remove the bindings and the tattle tape, which is used as a security system.
“We talked to Michigan State (University) because they bought special machinery you have to get to (recycle library books),” Dey said. “They were not happy about having to do it, because they’re pulling huge amounts of stuff out of their collections too, and it was incredibly expensive. The machinery was not terribly reliable. We didn’t have it in our budgets at the time to buy the service or prep (the books) like we needed to.”
The texts that aren’t taken by other libraries, faculty, or Better World Books end up in the trash.
When asked why students were not given the option of keeping texts for themselves, Dey said the quick deadline prevented it.
“If the book hasn’t circulated, the students have basically spoken,” she said.
Before Zahnow started removing books, it had a collection of over 170,000 texts. Dey said that about 50,000 books will have been removed when the project is complete. Over 10,000 books were sent to Better World Books. Somewhere between 110,000 and 120,000 books will remain in the collection.
“We do realize print books are still very alive and well and we still buy them,” Dey said. “In the renovation, we had asked for an additional 20,000 titles, bringing the total collection to 140,000 titles. So print books will remain in the collection for quite some time. We still have a very healthy print collection.”
“We don’t want everything to be electronic- we’re not there yet – but we want (the collection) to be convenient and work the best it can for students with their lifestyle, with their commitments and with their work,” she added.
One of the reasons the library decided to remove a number of their books was to create space for more collaborative and study areas like group meeting rooms.
“What’s running this is just trying to make the space as valuable as it can be to students,” Dey said. “Would you rather have the extra six seats or books that don’t check out?”
Dey said the library hopes not only to remove books that patrons no longer use to keep their collection more updated, but also to change the arrangement of the collection by having different wings for different subjects and shelves that aren’t in “soldier rows” to create more collaborative spaces.
Dey also noted the fact that students still have access to many of the removed texts through the Michigan Electronic Library and Interlibrary loans.
“The collection will be vibrant,” Dey said. “You’ll see newer books. Even in the disciplines like history that love old books, they’ll continue to see subjects that are being used—seminal works, canons of their discipline—but they’ll see things published more recently that are about older topics.”
“I think in the end people will be OK with this,” she added. “I don’t think we’ve lost anything that can’t be found easily in other places.”
Dey encourages students with questions about the library renovations to contact her.