In the early years of the profession, librarians were concerned with the permanence of their collections. Books should last, and their users should work with materials in ways that would help preserve the items on the shelves. Librarians railed against cheap books sold in bookstores. In a paper read at the 1914 ALA Annual Conference titled "Our Present Problem," Mary Ely lamented that children opted to purchase "a bargain in books, so much paper, so much print, for so little money" rather than enjoying "the best books of all ages of time" preserved at the public library (ALA Bulletin, 1914, p. 219-23).
Yet in the 21st century, most libraries discard materials for reasons such as condition and suitability to the collection. How they do so is seldom spotlighted. Rather than hide the fact that it's sometimes appropriate to dispose of books, some acknowledge that their efforts to keep their collections well managed and the earth green involve recycling.
Resourceful use of resources
At Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Peggy Miley, a library audiovisual reserves assistant and a member of the recycling committee, noted that donations may be reused or recycled in one of three ways. She explained that the first course of action is to add needed materials to the collection, then sell other titles at a Friends store. "Anything we don't think is usable, we throw in the recycling bins," Miley said.
A similar approach is used at the University of Utah health sciences library in Salt Lake City. "We want to see if anyone else can use them," Education Services Librarian Jeanne Marie Le Ber said of the materials that the library must discard. The library does receive some compensation for its recycling efforts. "They're paying us by the ton to cart our stuff away," observed Le Ber.
Her colleague Joan M. Gregory explained that the library works with a local company, Redi-Therm, which recently picked up a two-month accumulation of 8,000 pounds of paper of all sorts. "They use this material to make insulation," she said. Sixteen staffers loaded bins supplied by the company, an effort that took about 45 minutes of labor.
Gregory acknowledged that was "a lot of people time," but she contrasted this method with the alternative of paying another recycling company or the city's trash service for its disposal. "It depends on how you look at these things," she said.
Not just weeding, but greening
At Georgia Southern, some computer labs reuse paper printed on only one side; other printed material is made into note pads. …