The Great Library Purge of 2013

February 8, 2013

When my son was at a small Montessori school for elementary, I volunteered to help with the student store and field trips. During that time I also spent 5 years as a committee member and board member of The Parenting Center in Ft. Worth. When my son started middle school my term on the board was expiring, and I was ready to spend my volunteer time in a different way.

I decided to volunteer in the library at his middle school a couple of times per month. It takes me about the same time as the twice monthly agency meetings did, except I spend much less of my time driving and much more directly serving.

Volunteering in a school library is very different from organizing young kids who are planning and running a snack store or helping keep up with a group of children at a tree farm or a museum. And it uses a totally different part of my mind than what I used as a board member and committee chair. Thank goodness!

Usually at the library I do part of a project that involves organizing, arranging, labeling, or inventorying books or magazines or videos. Sometimes I run the laminator to plastic coat materials teachers have made for use in the classroom. Sometimes the librarian asks me for my opinion on a project she’s creating. Nothing is very challenging, and when my shift is over my part is done and I know what I’ve accomplished.

It’s usually calm, simple, and low-stress, even when the line to check out books backs up and I have to move the kids through quickly. But today was different. Today was the first time I have had a difficult assignment .

Since the school library exists for instructional support, one of the main measures of quality is the average copyright date on the reference books. Reference books in a school should be as up-to-date as possible. It’s a very different standard from a library that has an archiving responsibility.

My job today was to go through a section of reference books and pull off the shelf any that had a copyright date before 2000. The mythology book from the Joseph Campbell Institute was tough to pull. I mean, mythology is thousands of years old so it doesn’t change in a few years.

Pulling the huge Roget’s Thesauruses bothered me, too, even though there were newer versions left on the shelf. Pulling the dictionaries was rough, too, in spite of there being several “updated” versions to replace them. I sighed pretty deeply as I pulled the book of idioms, especially since there wasn’t a newer version.

The librarian came back from lunch, saw the stack, and had the same reaction I had. Her eyes opened wide. That many? The thesauruses?? The dictionaries??? We were both twitchy fingered Gollums not wanting to let go of our precious word books.

We both know that online reference catalogs are replacing printed reference books, and that they stay much more up-to-date. We talk often about the trend of digital publishing replacing physical books, especially in K-12 education. But we love books, and we especially love books about words. We’re word nerds.

I’m also a mythology nerd, thanks to my love of Jungian psychology. As the librarian was looking through the books I had pulled, she saw me gazing wistfully at the book from the Joseph Campbell Institute.

Turns out the books pulled from the shelves are offered to teachers to see if they want them as resources in their classrooms, and then they’re offered to other people. The mythology curriculum is for 6th grade, and 6th grade is at an intermediate school now instead of the middle school, so none of the teachers needed it for instruction.

I called dibs!


2 Responses to “The Great Library Purge of 2013”

  1. Terri Belford on February 9th, 2013 11:40 am

    Steve, I gasped audibly when I read that you had to purge a mythology book from the Joseph Campbell Institute. I am so, so happy you were able to rescue it. I sure hope the Thesauruses and dictionaries are used in the classrooms.

  2. admin on February 9th, 2013 11:47 am

    It was really a hard project, Terri! I presented it kind of playfully here, but it was a viscerally emotional challenge. I believe the future of education will be digital media, and I think there are amazing opportunities for students to learn in an individualized way with digital learning. But physical books are special. Some feel sacred.

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