If you want to see such a process in action, visit – not a hospital, but a public library – the Joe Barnhart Bee County Library, for instance.
Its next book sale is in mid-August, and Director Cynthia Blatherwick already is at work deciding which books will lose their place on the shelves and be consigned to the sale counter.
It’s a complex task known by the acronym CREW: continuous review, evaluation and weeding.
“As our shelf space becomes a premium, we start weeding.
“Before a book is pitched, it must fail in at least one of six rigid criteria. And sometimes by a Blatherwick hunch.
“It’s exhausting,” she admits. “Some books sit on my desk for days while I try to decide.”
“Continuous” is the salient word. The library contains 40,000 titles — which equates to a little more than one book for each person in the county — way too many to start culling just before a sale.
“We almost have too many books,” she says, noting that bookshelves that extend to the vanishing point can overwhelm a patron. “They can’t take in that much.”
In a way, a book under consideration has to prove itself innocent in the court of MUSTIE. Another acronym.
M – IS THE book misleading?
“An example might be a book on gardening,” Blatherwick says. “It might say the way to control insects is to spray the plants with DDT.” Clearly, the contents are misleading and could be dangerous.”
Other book subjects that might fall in the misleading category include chemistry, health, food and general science – topics which new research quickly can make obsolete.
U – UGLY.
“Yes, sometimes we judge a book by its cover,” Blatherwick says, though hating the cliché. “Sometimes people spill food or chemicals on then pages. Or they get them wet, or readers have dog-eared some pages. We try our best to repair them, but sometimes the damage is just too great.”
She says the library tries its best to replace the book if it is to remain in the inventory.
S – HAS THE book been superseded?
A perfect example, she says, is the travel book “New York on $5 a Day.” Another example: computer manuals that can become outdated with the next software revision.
“If we don’t cull these, pretty soon everything’s obsolete before you can say ‘snapdragon.’”
T – IS THE book trivial?
Such a classification, Blatherwick says, is more subjective.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” is popular now, she says, but I predict its popularity soon will wane, more of a fad.”
I – IS THE book irrelevant?
“One of the main reasons is language,” she explains. “We don’t have any books here written in French, because few of our patrons speak it.”
E – CAN THE same book be obtained elsewhere?
“Texas has a fantastic inter-library loan system,” she says. “If we don’t have the book you want, you can be pretty sure we can get it from some other library in the state.”
She is quick to stress that the institution she directs is a lending library.
“We don’t keep large classic collections. We don’t have a complete set of the works of Dickens, for instance, because there isn’t the demand. It’s not my job to decide what people should be reading.”
Any book that fails the MUSTIE test is stored with other volumes in numerous places in the library, out of public view, until the sale.
“Fiction is harder than non-fiction to decide,” Blatherwick says, admitting that, previously, she took home two volumes of an author’s collection before it was sold. “I like the writer. She’s one of my favorites.”
Then, there is that hunch.
“Some books are just offensive. They’re discarded.”
Other books that never make it to the sale include encyclopedias – one of the more obvious victims of Internet research.
“We send them to recycling.”
Last year, the library spent one-fourth of its annual budget on new and replacement books.
Slowly demanding more attention are electronic, or ebooks.
The library offers 8,500 titles, along with audio books.
“But, I don’t think we will ever see printed books disappear. There’s something intimate about just holding a book.”
A case in point is a volume in her office that would never pass the test.
It is old and ugly – although its beauty is in the eye of the proverbial beholder. It’s trivial, irrelevant and available elsewhere.
It’s an English-Greek dictionary, resting on its side high on a bookshelf, granted a reprieve because of its new task – as a riser.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.