Somebody has to keep the Awful Library Books

Awful Library Books is a newish blog that’s been getting a bit of attention. I really hate to sound like a humorless, old-school librarian (especially since I am most definitely not one), but I’m a little troubled by the tone of Awful Library Books. Sure, some/most of the titles mentioned are pretty amusing, but do we really want to be getting rid of books once they are outdated?

According to the About page:

The items featured here are so old, obsolete, awful or just plain stupid that we are horrified that people might be actually checking these items out and depending on the information.

As far as I can tell, most of the books identified are “awful” simply by virtue of being old (and not really that old, at that).

I understand that most libraries need to weed collections to make room for new books, but I’m just a bit troubled by the message of Awful Library Books, which seems to be that libraries should only keep the most up-to-date books with wide appeal. The problem is that somebody has to keep the old books, so that we have a record of our cultural history. Moreover, I’m troubled by the general notion that books that seem frivolous or out-dated aren’t worth the shelf-space. That’s a kind of censorship that libraries usually rally against.

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7 Responses to “Somebody has to keep the Awful Library Books”


  1. 1 nightbusiness July 9, 2009 at 11:44 am

    I totally agree about the blog being tongue-in-cheek, but I also think that a lot of those books have Historical value. What troubles me about the site, really, is that lately I’ve seen all over the web sites that promote the idea basically that “it’s cool to hate on X” (with X being a bunch of stuff). And I think that while it can be a tame way for kids to get out their angst by talking about these sites, referencing them, and even just reading them, these sites seem to spread more intolerance rather than the tolerance that most young kids seem to advocate so strongly. It’s a strange paradox, I think.

    It seems more productive for libraries to display these so-called “awful” books in a section that might be called something like “obscure social history” or something to that effect. Instead of turning it into a joke (even though some of it is pretty ridiculous), turn it into a way to get people sincerely interested in the changes of ideas throughout our culture. Even an “Can you believe this was written?” shelf would be cool. I mean, I know that I’d check it out every time I visit the library.

    (sorry for the rambley comment – just really liked this post : D)

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  2. 3 Olivia July 7, 2009 at 7:38 am

    It seems to me that the authors of the blog understand they are being tongue-in-cheek with their entries…and I would say it’s really more the responsibility of Research Libraries (my caps) to preserve obsolete information, because they have every reason to maintain as much of the human record as possible. Smaller libraries whose responsibility is to keep the public informed and educated with up-to-date information are not under the same obligation, and I would argue are doing a disservice to their patrons by not weeding.

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    • 4 Chris July 7, 2009 at 9:13 am

      Olivia-
      thanks for the comment. i agree that the primary responsibility for keeping a retrospective collection lies with research libraries; although I would hope that public libraries provide more than just the latest publications. It seems a slippery slope to me — at what point do we decide that “obsolete” tomes like The Feminine Mystique are too out-dated to take up valuable shelf space?
      And, at a time when all libraries (public and research) are having to desperately defend their budgets and their spaces, I just hate to see us attack our own.
      I wish they would just rename it Funny Library Books …

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  3. 5 Rebecca Blakeley July 6, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    Good point! I think the blog is funny at times but I take some of the entries with a grain of salt. Some of the books are outdated but have historical value so I would hope our patrons are smart enough to discern that! I know my student patrons get a kick out of books or documents from the 80s or early 90s…to them, that is already history. Makes me feel old. :-(
    I used to work at a public library during my lib sci grad school years…and we had some truly outdated library books without an updated version. That’s where you can run into a problem. A book on STDs from the 60s but no modern equivalent? Eek! Although I guess as long as they had the latest edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves would suffice. ;-)

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  1. 1 books » Blog Archive » Somebody has to keep the Awful Library Books « Feral Librarian Trackback on July 7, 2009 at 7:11 am

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