Libraries in northern New Jersey recently gave up some secrets to Jim Beckerman, staff writer for The Record. They shared some of the unusual items that live in ‘library limbo.’ For a variety of reasons, these items aren’t circulating, but librarians just can’t bring themselves to toss them away.
Debbie Bock, head of reference at Johnson Public Library in Hackensack, told Beckerman about a 1970 Playboy magazine with no pictures that the library owns. Why no pictures? Because it is written in Braille. “I have no idea what this is doing in the library,” said Bock. “But it’s so unusual no one ever wants to throw it out. It doesn’t circulate. There’s no way of even putting it in the catalog.”
Some of the other unusual items that Beckerman discovered at the Ridgewood Public Library in New Jersey include a circa 1602 edition of “THE WORKES OF GEFFREY CHAVCER” which mysteriously ended up there, a magazine edited by Charles Dickens, and a poetry volume signed by its author–Bob Dylan. At the other end of the spectrum, Beckerman also found the ‘sex’ books published in the 80s and 90s by Madonna and Howard Stern. There are also books that are kept for a completely different reason. As Beckerman said, “Then there are the books so dated, weird, or wacky that librarians can’t, in good conscience, keep them on the shelves. But such books, by the same token, are often too fascinating to throw away. They end up in the back room – or in the director’s office.”
Beckerman wrote that librarian Nancy Greene of the Ridgewood Public Library keeps a copy of “I’m Glad I’m a Boy! I’m Glad I’m a Girl!” – a 1970 picture book by Whitney Darrow Jr. that contains the text, “Boys are doctors, girls are nurses – boys fix things, girls need things fixed.” And maybe more interestingly, “Boys are presidents, girls are first ladies.” Greene said, “I keep this as an example of why you have to weed things out.”
These discoveries got me thinking – what do we have tucked away at the library where I work? My public library is pretty small by comparison to those with research centers or local history rooms. Actually, local history is stored in the back of my office in files and boxes.
I asked our director, Nancy Wood, what she has ‘stashed.’ It turns out her favorite item is something that she found on the shelf when she came to the library in 1993. It was a 1959 copy of Mae B. Freeman’s You Will Go to the Moon. Wood said, “It was like classic nostalgia – should I delete it or keep it? It got deleted.” However, she did keep it in her office for the same reason Nancy Greene did – as a reminder to weed.
As a children’s librarian, the things I have stashed are mostly extra copies of popular books, story time favorites, and reference books. But then I noticed an old copy of a ‘Sweet Valley High’ book that I couldn’t throw out, a pop-up Cinderella book that I let especially well-behaved readers use, and a racy graphic novel I was planning on reading in 2013 so I could determine where to put it. And let’s not forget my copy of Dick and Jane and Vampires by Laura Marchesani, because it just cracks me up.
If you want to read about more strange library books, check out awfullibrarybooks.net, a site devoted to the art of weeding and its byproduct ‘awful’ library books.