« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Rodney Nelson, Fargo, Published March 07 2013

Letter: Weed-a-book policies disservice to serious users of our libraries

In the 1960s, a new American edition of the novel “Doctor Glas” by Hjalmar Söderberg (1869–1941) came out. I found it at the Fargo Public Library. Paul Britten Austin’s translation was adept. Binding and papers were sturdy.

“Doctor Glas” was the kind of lyric noir narrative that I knew I’d want to re-read; and when I noticed it on the shelf in summer 1999, I made a note to do so. The same copy I had read much earlier seemed to be in good condition.

When I came to check it out, however, the book was gone, and the title and author’s name were no longer in the catalog. I wrote the director. He did not reply. But his assistant happened to spot me at the reference desk one time and explained the library’s “weeding” or “deselection” policy: If a book has not been checked out for three years, it is discarded.

The policy must have been new. That copy of “Doctor Glas” had survived more than three decades. I told her that it was a Swedish and European classic and should have been excepted. “You may be right,” she said, “but that’s our policy.”

In 2008, a novel by Bengt Ohlsson, a living Swedish author, came out in translation. The library acquired it the next year. In “Gregorius,” Ohlsson uses a character from “Doctor Glas” to add new dimensions to the Söderberg classic. These are treated in an afterword by the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, also on the dust jacket.

But if a Fargo patron, reading of this, wanted to look and make a comparison, he or she would have to borrow “Doctor Glas” from an academic library (which often costs) or order it through interlibrary loan.

Fargo’s “weeding” or “deselection” policy is not unique. At another library in the area, where I’ve donated copies of my own work over the years, I get discarded regularly.

It seems that library-science programs around the country teach a weed-a-book-today policy, striving to match the kind of prescribed quick turnover they see in the retail sales-and-service model.

“Doctor Glas,” where are you? Not on the half-empty shelves of Fargo Public Library’s main branch. Next to go will be his fictional victim, “Gregorius.”