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More Weeding

July 20, 2001

A fun thing about the task of weeding books at the library is discovery.

But for Kathy Berg, it has been a morally troubling thing. She finds fascinating books that no one has checked out recently, and she worries about what to do.

Should she save a book from oblivion by checking it out herself? Would she then be violating the public trust and the responsibilities of her job? As an library employee, does she still count as a library patron herself?

Well, first of all, the fact that a book has not been checked out in several years does not require its removal. Most of the books on a “zero usage” list at any time will remain on the shelves. Such a list is merely one guide for examining the collection.

For one thing, there’s the matter of in-library use, either by patrons or staff. Circulation is not the only measure of utility. And two, some books are classics, and we can feel confident that someone will return to them soon enough and that they should be there.

But this is a good opportunity to point out something that many people may not understand: Not all books new to our library go to the New Book Shelf. In fact, most don’t.

That shelf is for bestsellers and popular new books that are noteworthy for being about a timely subject or discussed on NPR or on Oprah’s list or reviewed in the Denver Post and so forth.

Readers who never go past the New Book shelf miss a lot.

I asked Kathy what books had prompted her recent long, dark nights of the soul. She told me of a few that had caught her eye.

One was “Scavengers” by Yvonne Montgomery. She noticed that the story was set in Denver, then that the author was from Denver, and then that she knew of the author’s husband, who is now an editor at the Denver Post.

So, she read the book, which is a mystery and not her usual fare, and she enjoyed it. The mystery of the story lasted until the end, and she enjoyed the descriptions of Denver.

Here are a few others from her list. “Silver Spooner” by Darcy O’Brien, which won the Ernest Hemingway Foundation award in 1978 for the best first novel of the year. Now, I’m intrigued.

Edna O’Brien’s “Down the River” and Edith Forbes’ “Alma Rose.” “The Sojourner” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of “Where the Red Fern Grows” and “The Yearling.”

Have you read Chaim Potok recently? Kathy’s list includes his book “Davita’s Harp.”

Kathy is also a sucker for history. She is intrigued by “Sunne in Splendor” by Sharon Kay Penman, an historical novel set around Richard III. It is “this thick,” she said, but she’ll try it anyway.

What Kathy did by way of her job is something I suggest readers take the time to do for leisure: peruse the shelves and discover books they never knew existed. It’s not a large investment of time. It’s more a state of mind.

Don’t figure on grabbing a book and running off on your next errand. That’s how habits take over; you end up with the same kind of books time and again and grow dissatisfied.

Let shelf browsing be a quiet time, a kind of meditation. Keep a list in a safe place, such as the letter rack above your desk. Attend to it now and then. Help Kathy save books from oblivion.

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