Out with the old

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.

3 thoughts on “Out with the old

  1. I Feel Your Pain.
    1. We’re doing the same thing with the house my three brothers and I grew up in, making it ready to sell now that Mom is gone and Dad is in an apartment.
    You cannot PAY US to take most of the Stuff Accumulated For Fifty Five Years; the only arguments we have are of the, “no, YOU take it” variety.
    2. You know that I am a consummate neatnik … but I would rather open my wrists with an X-Acto knife than purge a BOOK.

    • 1. I felt pretty good with what survived the cleanout of my folks house, but of all of it, I know that only THE coffee table will be wanted by the next generation. Carol got shamed (not by me) into keeping quite a bit, which she put in storage, eventually shipped to India, and then got rid of it all there when she moved on. My m-i-l wants to back with us when we go to clean out the house before selling it. That will not go well.
      2. Even books sometimes must go…but only to be replaced with more, of course.

      • 1. YOUR dad’s drill-press, bench grinder, and portable workbench all still perform faithful service just a few blocks from whence they once lived.
        (The bearings of the tabletop belt sander, however, are Unreasonably Noisy and That Device will soon Meet Its Maker.)
        2. Okay. If you say so.

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