Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Everything! We’re Genealogists! We Want Everything! Free! Online! Whaddaya Mean You Pulped It???

Today was a “book” day.  

I’ve been choosing and packing books for our vendor exhibit space at the Connecticut Society of Genealogists annual fall event this coming Saturday – this year in North Haven, Connecticut – and also ordering books for the event the week following in Bergen County, New Jersey

(I’m doing one talk at the Connecticut event, should you be interested.)

So, to continue with the “book day” theme, let me point out that the brand-new New England Historic Genealogical Society book catalog was released today.  We stock a number of the NEHGS titles, so it was good to find some new things in print.

In print. In  paper. As in real paper-and-glue books.  

You know, the kind of things that don’t need a special “reader”, will work when the power goes out and can be loaned out or given to friends.  Real books.   You may have heard of them.

Now, before you get on my case, call me a Luddite, tell me to get with the program and suggest it’s only a matter of time till everything of value is (a.) digitized and (b.) online for free, please permit me this simple indulgence to point out that you’re probably grossly mistaken.

No question, more and more stuff is being digitized.  Similarly, more stuff is going online.  That’s all to the good.  But not everything.  Not even close.

Moreover, there’s a dirty little secret that nobody talks about.  Real glue and paper books are being destroyed.  Pulped.  Dumped.  Sold for waste paper. Burned. Ground up.  Shredded.  Turned into blown-in insulation for the thousands of overpriced McMansions that now dot the landscape in ex-urban America.  The very same McMansions that offer convincing proof that there are Schools of Architecture and licensing boards that should be sued for malpractice, at least as far as architectural aesthetics and design are concerned.

But I digress.  The issue at hand is books.  As I said, today was a book day.

First, let me say that I LOVE Google Books and all the other digitization programs.  Nonetheless, when I swivel my desk chair around to look at the stuff on my own shelves – my personal reference collection of real honest-to-Murgatroyd books – most of them are not digitized.  There are both copyright issues and “popularity” issues that keep that from happening. 

Let’s face it: a book titled “The Record : a History of the Graduates' Association of the State Normal School, Worcester, Mass. ; Revised and Brought Down to 1904” is not a title that makes the heart beat quicker.   

In fact, our friends at WorldCat locate a single copy at the Worcester Public Library.

That’s it.  One copy.  In one library.   

There may be others, but WorldCat doesn’t know about them.

Were you to check the out-of-print booksites for that title, you’d find that currently there were exactly NONE for sale. 

So, my personal copy on the shelves behind my desk is – to use the technical term – “hard to come by.”  Of course, most people will never want or need a copy, so it’s a “low-priority” item for reprint or for digitization.

Besides, there’s a copy at the Worcester Public Library.  You can always go there to look at it.

Oh, wait… there’s that “dirty little secret” thing I talked about.

That’s all about space and storage being expensive and libraries being “patron demand-driven”.

Did you know that libraries actually got rid of (i.e., destroyed) books?  Given much thought lately to how/why they did that and how/by whom that was decided?

I spent a large number of years as a trustee of an urban public library and also as a board officer of a large library system.  The concept of “library of last resort” – the library that kept one single reference copy of things that needed keeping – was a much talked about and little acted upon issue, but that was before space was an issue and before digitization got a foothold in the library/book world.

Now it’s a major issue, but still a little talked-about or acted-upon one.

So, if you think that “books in libraries” are safe from extinction and destruction, you might just as well believe in gardens of prancing unicorns and free pie for everybody.  Ain’t gonna happen.

Here’s an article by Linda Holmes on the NPR Blog website that underscores what’s really going on in the book/library world with regard to books going “bye-bye.”  It’s called “Hard Choices: Do Libraries Really Destroy Books?” 

Read it.  Be surprised. Weep.

Then go buy a real book and save it for future generations.

Because what you think is probably happening ...probably isn't.


  1. My husband and I have been 'saving' books for years. We have had to have floor to ceiling book shelves built to store them all. We visit new, secondhand and rare book stores almost every week. I cannot bear the thought of 'real' books being destroyed! I too use Google Books... but then I always end up buying the book I find!

  2. It is heartbreaking to walk into our local library and see the books that are being given away. I have rescued many of my children's favorite books and also many Jewish books. Where we live there probably isn't a large demand for books with a Jewish connection, but why wouldn't they contact a local community first? My house is a repository. My husband calls my library, my woman cave.

  3. And yet when people are asked to raise property taxes for things such as libraries they say no . . . . .

  4. Thank you for this, and let it be noted that Libraries are not the only book repositories. So are State Archives and County Courthouses. They, too are getting rid of records books. Not long ago I bought some records books from the 1870s for Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas. Still more recently, some books that were pre-1830 Justice of the Peace's records for one of the Finger Lakes Towns. When last I was at the Courthouse for Harrison County, WV, there were some estate records books noted in an index that I could not find; I was told that they probably had been "thrown out." And about 2 decades ago I ran across a dealer in an antiques show who was selling estate inventories from Kentucky from ca. 1810 by-the-page. Many volumes of maps and even survey plats have been taken apart and pages framed for individual sale . . . the volume of all this is just staggering.

  5. OK OK -- I've been thinking of ditching my great-aunt's 1923-26 college yearbooks, but I'm keeping them. I promise.

  6. OK, it's sad that books get destroyed, county records get destroyed, but have you given your local library or county courthouse a huge sum of money to build on for added storage space? I'm a library director of a small library and that's what it boils down space. Or, if you really want to save all those books, buy them at the library book sale and haul them all home. You can add on the room and build the shelves. Librarians hate to haul books out to the dumpster or recycling bin but there is only so much shelf space. Put your money where your mouth is.

  7. You mean books are deaccessioned by a professional staff bearing Masters degrees according to a official policy developed to reflect to the expressed and interpreted needs of the community the library serves?

    Then yes, libraries destroy, pulp, toss, weed, and get rid of books with abandon.