Book dumping in the 21st century, the downside to the digital composition bias

Like some of you, I’m one of those people who loves owning paper copies of books. I’ve tried before to explain why I’m partial to the print editions of things, especially when I also use a Kindle for Mac application and regularly text, email and chat. Before, I couldn’t put my loving nostalgia into words, but I think I’ve found something that can back up my bias – it’s not a book burning, but it’s close.

Imagine my surprise when The Washington Post tweeted an article about my county’s library throwing away books and getting rid of qualified librarians. Are you imagining a disappointed, affronted sort of surprise? Good, then we’re on the same page.

Hearing complaints that the Fairfax County Public Library was throwing away tons of books, County Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence) decided to peer into a dumpster.

Twice, she found stacks and stacks of high-quality books, bought by the taxpayers, piled in the trash. The second time, she filled a box.

Smyth knew that libraries discard books all the time to make room for new ones. But many libraries have volunteer groups that take the discards and resell them to raise money. Or libraries donate discards to shelters, schools or less fortunate towns and cities.

But as Sam Clay, Fairfax’s longtime library director, launched a plan to revamp the county system, no books were given to the Friends of the Library for seven months this year, and more than 250,000 books were destroyed, Smyth said.

“If I didn’t pick up some of these books,” Smyth said, “no one would believe it.”

Now, even in the summer and winter when I am home, I make no use of the Fairfax County Public Library. That doesn’t mean this is any less confusing or upsetting, because for starters, why can’t you recycle books instead of trashing them?  Why is that not the immediate and obvious choice if you have to get rid of books (besides, oh, i don’t know, donating them to people who normally couldn’t have access to them even in a free public library setting?)

Even after reading about the outcry from the rest of the county, a bitter taste remains on my tongue. Digital technologies impact our composition and education in many more ways than this one example, but all it takes is this one example to make me question that impact. If this is one of the consequences of pushing forward into an age where books and other educational materials aren’t valuable when they’re printed, consider me one of those hipsters who buys way too many books and lets them collect on my shelf. Better dusty than destroyed.