Roberta Wilder flipped opened a copy of Fish Eyes this week at the Augusta-Richmond County Public Library, but there were few pages to count in the brightly colored book used to introduce young boys and girls to basic math.
“It looks great on the outside, but the entire middle is missing, except for one page,” Wilder said of the preschool paperback that, along with a spineless copy of Christine Feehan’s romance novel Deadly Game, had made its way into a small cardboard book labeled “recycling.”
In the next week or so, the books will join about 13,850 others that have been thrown out in the past three fiscal years in Richmond and Burke counties because they had become too soiled, stinky or damaged to save, estimated Wilder, the leader of technical services for the East Central Georgia Regional Library System.
Discards included books so unloved they haven’t circulated for at least four or five years, the administrator said.
Hopelessly outdated electronics guides and old almanacs fall into that category. Some once-hot books have so outlived their trendiness that they’re not even good enough for Friends of the Library volunteers to resell at their annual book sale for 50 cents to $1.
Records show that since July 2010, the library system has withdrawn 55,407 books from shelves, either because they’re damaged, no longer checked out or provide little value to the reference collection.
“We usually repair or sell most of the books that are withdrawn – probably 75 percent – but the ones we don’t, we recycle,” Wilder said.
The standard that local librarians use to clear collections of aged and deteriorating books to make room for new and more popular volumes is called the Continuous Review, Evaluation and Weeding method, Wilder said.
The administrator said the process is used by many libraries and basically depends on whether a book passes the “eyeball test.”
“If you look at it and you don’t want to touch it, then probably nobody else wants to, either,” Wilder said.
LaShette Rice, the Augusta library record clerk who reglues and retapes damaged books, said that each week about 200 books are brought to her in need of repair. She said she can save only about half.
Near her desk is a portable shelf that contains dozens of scribbled-on children’s books and shredded cookbooks with sticky notes attached to them that read “someone cut out pages 23-24,” “binding loosening” or “top of cover torn.”
Included in the mix is a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, a book that Rice says she will most definitely try to bring back to life by reattaching its spine.
“Some are worth fixing and some aren’t,” Rice said. “When they are no longer viable at all, that’s when they go to the recycling bin.”
Wilder said that in the junk pile some treasures are recovered, particularly from the daily donations the library receives from residents who have cleaned out attics, estates and garages.
Most of those are sent to a second-floor storage room in Augusta’s downtown library for the Friends of the Library to sell after removing homemade book jackets and plastic wrappings and marking out property stamps.
More than 20,000 books are stacked floor to ceiling on a series of six shelves and in 40 boxes. In the collection is Time Life’s Understanding of Science and Nature, The Treasury of American Short Stories, by Nancy Sullivan; and series of novels written by renowned authors Tom Clancy, James Patterson and Danielle Steel.
Sometimes the library system will keep historic editions, but vintage books are often sold to fund summer reading club speakers or other special events held by the Friends of the Library.
This week, Wilder dug out parts of the 25-volume set of The Ridpath Library of Universal Literature, published by New York City’s Fifth Avenue Library Society in 1899.
The pages were foxed and brown, but Wilder said there still might be an owner for the book.
“It is not in good enough condition to keep in our collection, but who knows, somebody might want to add it to their home library,” she said.