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MailTribune.com
  • Shelf life of library books is variable

  • What determines the shelf life of books at our local libraries? Is there an average circulation time for books and who decides if they are discarded or sold?
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  • What determines the shelf life of books at our local libraries? Is there an average circulation time for books and who decides if they are discarded or sold?
    — Desmond C., via e-mail
    The simple answer, Desmond, is wear and tear, use or neglect.
    The quickest way for a book to exit the Jackson County Library system is for someone to drop it in the mud, not that we would suggest pitching War & Peace into a storm drain. Favorite works tend to age quickly, and those whose bound prose never goes out the front door eventually find their way into book sales.
    "A lot of it is determined by the condition of the materials," said Crystal Stroud, technical services supervisor for the county libraries. "Often, items that circulate a lot of times, and over time they become dirty, worn or even split apart. We do have volunteers who mend some of our materials, but if we have more of the same material, we're just as likely to withdraw them."
    If 20 or 30 copies of a bestseller are circulating through the system, Stroud said, at some point the number will be reduced to 10 or so.
    "We have five selectors who select different types of materials," she said. "Generally, they decide what to keep; if it's damaged, universally they are withdrawn."
    The five selectors have different areas of authority: Audio books, large print and foreign language works; music CDs; adult non-fiction; adult fiction; and DVD and children's materials.
    The length of time materials circulate, she said, depends on damage. Local history books and those written by local authors or more likely to be re-bound if they start falling apart. Books that no one reads are targets for quicker departures.
    "At some point, if it hasn't circulated in years and years we might decide to withdraw it for room's sake on the shelf," Stroud said. "If a book has been on the shelf for five years and nobody has checked it out, that's a pretty good indication that no one wants to read it."
    There are several "Friends of the Library" groups in the county who resell books removed from the shelves. But if they are damaged, split, have pages falling out or are dirty, she said, "They will go into the trash."
    Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501 or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.
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