Friday, April 21, 2006

Wendell Berry

One of the truly sad, unbearable, nitty gritty parts of being a librarian is that you have to weed on a regular basis. When librarians say “weed” we mean throwing books away.

AWK! What did she say?

It’s true. Librarians throw books away. Some of us do it better than others. My colleague, who is a fabulous jewel at the heart of our library, is a vicious weeder. She unpacks the boxes of new books and does a lot of the purchasing, so she knows full well that we have a very generous budget for new books and we have a physically limited amount of shelf space. We can only hold so many books. This is an undisputable fact of life.

So some of the older, less circulated, less attractive, less child-desired books have to go.


I am not a good weeder. I tend to rescue as many as I can. I haven’t been a librarian long enough to be a good weeder. I drag a book cart full of the ones I just can’t bear to see go away into the teacher’s lounge and beg teachers to take them into their classrooms. I look for places to give them away. But bottom line, some of these books are out of date and even just plain inaccurate. Pluto was the eighth planet when Buster was in third grade, but it was the ninth when I was in third grade.

So yesterday I had to drag a huge dolly full of boxes of books out to the dumpster and throw them in. Heartbreaking but also somehow oddly liberating, the way scratching poison ivy makes you feel good.

One book I did rescue in intense, passionate, scandalous revolt and keep for my own overflowing bookshelves. It is Wendell Berry’s Collected Poems 1957 – 1982.

How dare she delete Wendell Berry?

Oh. My. Stars.

Berry is a farmer and poet. Here is my favorite one from this volume.

The Familiar

The hand is risen from the earth,
the sap risen, leaf come back to branch,
bird to nest crotch. Beans lift
their heads up in the row. The known
returns to be known again. Going
and coming back, it forms its curves,
a nerved ghostly anatomy in the air.


Sylvie said...

I was just telling somehow the other day that throwing away books feels sacrilegious! Would your library consider donating books to shelters or something. Maybe Doctor's offices or clinic waiting areas?

susan said...

Copy away! I love Wendell Berry. What a wonderful Friday treat.

jo(e) said...

My office is in the library on campus. And the librarian there usually asks me to help weed every spring. The cool thing is that the books we weed out get put on the free table and people can take them -- including me.

But Wendell Berry? Who would weed out Wendell Berry?

That volume would disappear pretty quickly on our free table.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

Yay I am glad you liked them! I have recommended that Berry book to teachers doing poetry many times. I think it is just a bit less attractive than all the new poetry books that have come out lately. No pictures (other than the words of course...) I have greatly expanded our poetry collection :) so I guess the other librarian thinks we have exceeded our shelf space for Dewey 811... :( Kids these days expect gaphics and loud colors. I do what I can to push the beautiful words...

We do give the best of our weeded books away to schools and such. But we feel pretty strongly that "poor" kids deserve nice new books too and we don't want to give them ugly stuff that is falling apart, and certainly not old nonfiction that is inaccurate or out of date. Sometimes we have a book sale and use the money to donate, and sometimes we put the books on a "free" table.

Anonymous said...

SO glad that you rescued that book. Berry's poems always renew me.(no library pun intended ; ) )

I guess that after you've given away or sold the older but useful copies, the leftovers are junk. But somewhere there's an assignment waiting to be written comparing different editions of a book!

Overwhelmed! said...

Throwing away books does feels sacrilegious! I worked at a bookstore once and I had to tear off the covers of brand new books (surplus), send the cover back to the publisher for credit and then throw the rest of the book away in a dumpster. I pleaded to be allowed to take the books home with me and circulate them, but I wasn't allowed. It would've been considered stealing. It broke my heart to have to throw good books away!

tanita✿davis said...

I just started Connie Willis' Bellwether. The first chapter has a piece on how the character decided to totally screw up the library's system of tossing things that hadn't been checked out. She checked out things she already had, random good poets, old children's books, just so the library could keep them...

I hate that you have to throw them away. Hate it, hate it, hate it. Our library has a lot of sales, but I know that eventually, what doesn't sell...

Andromeda Jazmon said...

Don't tell anyone but I do that too. I go around checking out the books I don't want to be tossed. Sometimes that works. If I read the books to the kids in library class they can't be thrown out, can they? It's part of my curriculum!