When I got married, I moved to a new county, and the most exciting thing (other than getting married, of course) was joining my new county’s library system, which is much larger than the one I was used to.
However, I soon realized that a larger library system doesn’t necessarily have more books. As I perused the shelves at the new library, I saw that they contained several copies of the newest and most popular books, which is nice. In my old library, when a new book came out, I had to wait what seemed like forever to check it out because everyone would jump on it before I did.* Because there were literally ten copies of the newest Stephen King, I was able to check it out and renew it once without the system telling me I couldn’t renew it because some other patron had requested it.
Then I began to realize that the new library does not seem to keep older books on the shelves unless they are classics or extremely popular. When it comes to nonfiction, that is likely a good thing because nonfiction stuff tends to go “out of date” faster than fiction because new developments come up in the field.** Even with fiction, it’s somewhat of a good thing because to be honest, most novels don’t withstand the test of time and should be culled to make room for the newer ones.
I wondered what they did with all the older books, then remembered The Giant Book Sale that goes on every spring. The library system gathers all its unwanted/discarded/out-of-date books (and others that I assume are donated) into a huge expo center and sells them over the course of three days. If you want the best and biggest variety, it is better to go on the first day and grab as many books as you can lay your greedy hands on, but on the third day, what remains is sold at dirt-cheap prices, so you still end up with a good deal. It is like heaven for book nerds. My old county does an annual book sale, too, but theirs is much smaller and has much less variety.
The reason for that is probably because my old county keeps many of its older books on the library shelves. In terms of nonfiction, this is annoying because who the hell cares about the 1992 edition of What Color Is Your Parachute? and the 1980 edition of Writer’s Market? (I exaggerate, but still…) But it is nice that older fiction stays on the shelves longer because you have a better chance of getting to read most of an author’s backlist, and nerds like me might not discover those books otherwise. It is also nice to still see books that I read in my teens on the shelf many years later. It’s like seeing old friends, and it makes me happy because it means that some other nerdy teenager can discover the books the same way I did (assuming teenagers can rip their eyes away from their screens long enough to read a book).
All of this difference is probably because my new county is still a lot more wealthy than the old one, and they can afford to buy new books all the time. But the difference was interesting. Maybe when I retire, I can be one of those old ladies who volunteers at the library, reads to little kids, and tells everyone to shush. Perhaps I could get some say, or at least some deeper insight, into what goes into those decisions about which books to buy for the library and which to get rid of.
*It is extremely rare when I buy books brand new. I hate to say this because it doesn’t support authors, but I just can’t justify laying down $20 or more for a book that I will likely read only once.
**Even nonfiction has its classics, though.