|From my photo album; Notes|
Libraries have “used book sales”, in which donated used books are sold to other voracious readers, thus generating needed funds. I’m sure this drives publishers crazy (awww, too bad) but it’s a great source of interesting stuff.
In their donation rules, they always say; “no moldy books from your basement, no encyclopedias, and no National Geographic magazines.” They say it right up front, so that if you found the donation dates and places, you found that too. But for several weeks afterwards, their dumpsters will look like this one. (The dumpster next to it was full of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books – a concept that was ahead of its time if ever anything was.)
They’re not setting those rules to be big ol’ anti-encyclopedia meanies; it’s because they know what sells at book sales. The chances that anybody will walk out of a book sale with eighty pounds of encyclopedias from 1981 are very slim. National Geographics are wonderful too but anybody who will buy them, already has shelves full of them.
Why do people donate them? Probably because they’re not in the habit of dumpster diving; they don’t know the reality. But just as likely, it’s an emotional reality they can’t face. A weighty compendium of organized human knowledge; what’s cooler than that?* And National Geographics… they’re just too good to throw away! It seems wrong.
Once upon a time my dad bought me a set of Encyclopedia Brittanicas. Even with his college perfessor’s discount, they were a substantial chunk of change, but I made good use of them. Decades went by, the Internet broke out of Darpa and begat The Web, and gradually I found them less useful. Eventually, two years went by and I hadn’t consulted them at all. Since I’m trying to get my library down to 500 volumes (don’t hold your breath), I decided to get rid of them. Aware of the book-sale rule, I threw them out myself, a couple volumes a week so the trash truck crane would be able to lift the bin.
If it had been practical for me to wrap them in plastic and put them in a cave in the desert somewhere, I certainly would have. I wouldn’t be surprised if a dozen people a year around the world do just that when they can’t bear to throw them out. But in any case their disposition had fallen to me; I couldn’t ask anyone else to do it. And as I did so, I thought about my father, and about information, and about the future. It was a contemplative task. It felt like a slow, Viking funeral pyre.
National Geographics, and indeed all my magazines, I handle differently. I put stickers on them that say; “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle: you can keep this magazine if you want” and donate them to the hospital auxiliary for waiting rooms. I’ve spent enough time in hospitals to know how valuable a long, interesting article that you can take with you to the next room, or even to take home, can be. (Of course I asked first, to be sure I wasn’t making wrong assumptions, and the auxiliary volunteers tell me they’re very happy for the donations.)
In the long run they still get thrown out, but after more people read them, which seems fitting.
- What’s cooler than a weighty compendium of organized human knowledge? A searchable, weightless, nearly limitless compendium of human knowledge, plus videos of cats in boxes.
- I’ve been avoiding library book sales too for the last several years.