This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March 19, 2009 - cast out that which does not flourish

Let me start at the hardest spot. Libraries, sometimes, throw books away. We really do.

How could we?! Don't librarians understand the value of the book?

And by book, we mean:

* Your college textbook. You didn't actually read it. The parts you did read, you marked up heavily with a yellow marker, and scores of obscure comments. But that was the year you also met a young woman who gave you a completely different idea of yourself. That's what makes that book valuable to you, so valuable that even though you're convinced that you can't keep it any more, surely it deserves a place at your local library!

* A book published 20 years ago, in a field where things change quickly. It wasn't that long ago that I strolled through a local high school library and found a book published in 1965. It was in the science section. This is an act of profound disservice to young minds.

* A bestseller! Of course, this is from 5 years ago, from an author that had only that one book, and it didn't really make much of an enduring impact.

* A book that's not just a little bit old. It's REALLY old, with a fancy leather binding. It may be worth mentioning that it's a reprint, and, let's face it, smells like a particularly sordid fruit.

Books go through stages in the library:

* Hot. You gotta read it. It's the subject of blogs and buzz. This one you have to look at right now. "What Would Google Do?"

* A sleeper. Some books make points that don't catch the wave of popular culture, but are attuned to a deeper pulse. "What To Expect When You're Expecting." "Cold Mountain."

* A new classic. Boy, this one is just going to last forever. Stephen Mitchell's translation of the Tao te Ching. Harry Potter -- which didn't take off until the third in the series.

* Trash. And here we go. The sad truth of our culture is that a good 90% of the current output is destined for landfills. It has ever been so.

There's good news for that last category. Your trash is someone else's treasure. The library, when it removes items from the shelves, is well aware that there are many other institutions and people who would delight in what we discard. And we send thousands of books every year to charter schools, shelters, home decorators, collectors, foreign servicemen, and outlier school rooms. Others just wind up on the "long tail" of book sellers, for whom almost anything has value, eventually.

I want to be absolutely clear about this. The public library HAS to pull books from our collections. Our shelves are not infinite. If people don't use things, we don't keep them. We can't.

It's true that some things we discard are good. But the passion of the people is for what's new.

But here's this week's point: the process of removing what no one really wants any more is called "weeding."

And what we need to do in the world is ... more weeding.

So many of us seem to feel that everything we do should just get added on to everything else we do. That way lies madness.

Recently, I have learned that the single most significant thing I can do to ensure my popularity is to cancel a meeting. To remove something from other people's to do list.

I'm guessing that many of you feel the same way.

So here's my advice: weed. Strike from your days the tasks that no longer have merit or meaning. Quit the club that consumed your time but refused to feed your soul. Pretend no more to nourish the project even you admit is worthless.

Do as the library does: remember what matters, but cast away that which deserves to fall into darkness. Open yourself to possibility.

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