Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2012 Issue

Academia’s Dirty Little Secret: De-Accession by Dumpster

I wrote back that I was truly shocked. This was the reply:


“This was pretty much my same reaction nine and ten years ago -- but I guess I was a bit naive about institutional politics and the dark side of collection development in academia. 

No one really wanted to hear the whistle I was blowing. And as an avid bibliophile I was aware my motives could easily be perceived as suspicious: conflict of interest and all that.

No one in the administration dared risk taking a stand to change the policy -- unwanted gift book and duplicate material was not worth their tenure-track careers. Everyone said something should and could be done, but that was that.

A supervisor even went so far as to let me rescue a few items "as long as no one complained" but then back-peddled when a member of the administration saw me searching through the boxes and tried to have me fired.

I decided it wasn't worth it for me either. I am the only one of the people mentioned above who is still at the library. And everyone now at XYZ has other fish to fry…. with budget cuts, etc.

Pretty Much Universal”

I think this practice is pretty much universal in the state (though I could never get anyone to explain to me the logic of why state-funded books could not be sold?) 

Giving them away to faculty or privileged staff, I understand, probably borders on unethical--but why not have them equitably distributed or sold or put out to bid for real dollars to support the university?

Gets my dander up for sure, but I don't think there's much of a cure.

I eventually turned a blind-eye. I'll look more closely to confirm what is and isn't getting tossed right now but I'd be very careful before upsetting the apple cart.

Gifts are a Nuisance

I don't much care for Better World Books, but it is exactly that model with the patina of non-profit that the former regime would've jumped all over to be rid of the nuisance books -- and nuisance is how they sometimes view gifts.

A collection development phrase I often hear is 'gifts aren't free' -- I guess an Association of Research Libraries study was done that demonstrated that the average gift book costs $20 or $30 dollars in accessioning costs (which is probably true). 

Still, the bibliophile that I am has a hard time reducing books to the measure of a commodity. That's probably why I can't even move in my garage: I have a hoarder’s instinct when it comes to books. Maybe the library is doing us all a favor by pitching the detritus (as surely a lot of the books are).


Anyway, that's my rant for the evening. Thanks for sharing my vintage outrage.

I wrote back asking if the writer was still at XYZ U, the response was:


Yes, I've been with XYZ University now for XX years and have a career in the library.

It is a BIG organization with many campuses across the state. It is ranked in the top ten research libraries. And I am almost certain the practice here is not uncommon.

In fact I went to a Friends of the Library sale in a nearby public library, and they too were pitching the discarded books -- I was talking to the lady at the checkout asking what they did with discards? She was surprised I was interested, because she didn't think people wanted old library books.

I guess they had tried before with older dated reference books and they didn't move at the sale. 

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