Now that’s a life philosophy, or maybe a four-word epitaph, eh? It certainly is a phrase that keeps coming around (and around and around) in life.
I could be thinking about this because my mother-in-law just made a move that involved considerable downsizing and her kids now have to deal with the rest of the stuff.
I could be thinking about this because we just updated our own wills which of course gets you thinking about all your stuff.
I could be thinking about this because of Marie Kondo and her tidying up philosophy or because I am firm believer in reduce, reuse, recycle or because I really need to dust all the stuff in my house or because I keep seeing articles aimed at baby boomers saying “your kids don’t want your stuff.”
But actually, I am thinking about this because of my volunteer gig.
One day a week I volunteer at a school library. I’ve helped out in school libraries on and off since the daughters were in elementary school, but this year the librarian asked me to do something I’d never done before. I weeded books from the collection.
Libraries are supposed to be great repositories of knowledge and culture. But at the same time, they are also supposed to be current and relevant. Guidelines for Texas school libraries say that the average age of a collection should be less than 11 years. That’s just a guideline, and I’m not even sure if it refers to copyright date or date of acquisition, but it still means that libraries need to constantly be adding and removing books.
The librarian I work with has only been at this school for two years and the library hadn’t had a good, thorough weeding for several years before she arrived. She didn’t do much weeding her first year because she was still learning how the library resources were used by both teachers and students. She’s spent a lot of time and money buying new books, especially fiction and graphic novels that the kids clamor for. It was time to start making some room on the shelves, so she asked me to make a first pass.
Actually, there wasn’t that much pressure because she was going to have to look at every book I pulled in order to officially take it out of the system, but still I had to look at a book and determine that it was UNWORTHY to remain in this library. Mind you, I am a person who goes into a used book store and buys yet another copy of one of my favorites because I think it deserves a home. And yes, there are reports that a librarian can generate to find old books, or books that haven’t been checked-out in years, but honestly, a visual perusal of shelves is a good way to start.
In fiction I was mostly looking for books that were in poor condition and books that had multiple copies, but were no longer considered “hot reads.” In non-fiction, I was looking at condition and also subject matter that was obviously dated. You don’t have to have a masters in library science to know that books on travel, sports, and careers date quickly. Chemistry hasn’t changed too much, but computer technology has. History is solid, but books on current cultures need to be fresh. And even if the information is good, books with pictures from the 80’s aren’t going to appeal to today’s 11-18 year olds.
I weeded out several hundred books. No regrets, mind you, but still I couldn’t help thinking about what was being lost.
It was only a few days later that I heard on the radio this segment of Engines of Our Ingenuity titled “Forgotten Lore.” You can read the transcript or listen to it from the link. (It’s short, check it out.)
Do you remember the second line of Poe’s famous poem, “The Raven?”
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. …
I don’t think my library will be missing any forgotten lore, but I’m glad for other libraries, librarians, and historians. To really understand our present, we must also understand how we got here.