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Beyond the Shelf: Where do La Jolla Library’s withdrawn books go? To a Better World

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(Daniel K. Lew)
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Beyond the Shelf is a monthly column about the activities and people at the La Jolla/Riford Library.

Dozens of cardboard boxes labeled “Better World Books” stand together in the La Jolla/Riford Library workroom. This is not an unusual sight, as the library sends regular shipments to Better World Books, an online used-book seller. The contents? Withdrawn books.

Library assistant Rhonda Jensen helps prepare the packages once a careful elimination process called weeding has taken place. “If you love something, you have to let it go,” she said.

Librarians typically abide by the CREW method (Continuous Review Evaluation and Weeding) of assessing whether a book should remain in the collection. Six criteria summarized by the acronym MUSTIE make up the process:

• Is the item misleading or factually inaccurate?

• Is the item ugly or worn beyond repair?

• Is the item superseded by a new edition?

• Is the item trivial or of no merit?

• Is the item irrelevant to the community?

• Is the item easily available elsewhere?

Boxes full of books withdrawn from the La Jolla/Riford Library collection await shipment to Better World Books.
Boxes full of books withdrawn from the La Jolla/Riford Library collection await shipment to Better World Books, an online used-book seller.
(Katia Graham)

Routine weeding creates space in the library for new materials, yielding a leaner, more attractive and accessible collection. Still, weeding books pulls the heartstrings of many of us bibliophiles.

“Knowing the books get a chance at another life makes it easier to part with them,” Jensen said.

Any donated books that Friends of the La Jolla Library cannot resell in its bookstore — the profits of which support library programming — also are given to Better World Books.

Better World Books has a loyal partner in the La Jolla/Riford Library because it ensures each book it receives continues to make an impact. The nonprofit organization “never, ever” throws a book away. According to its website, any book that cannot be reused is recycled. The organization reports having reused or recycled more than 300 million books.

Furthermore, a driving force behind Better World Books is the idea that knowledge is power. Every time someone buys a book from BetterWorldBooks.com, the company donates to someone in need via hundreds of nonprofit organizations, such as Books for Africa and Feed the Children.

San Diego resident Jennifer Garner learned this firsthand when she bought “Christmas on State Street: 1940s and Beyond” from Better World Books.

“I received a very clever letter via email when I purchased the book for my parents as a holiday present,” Garner said. “It was actually from the book!”

Garner said she was delighted and shared the heartwarming letter with her family on Christmas Day. “I read it to everyone after my parents opened the gift. ... Everyone loved it.”

Garner’s sister Kim Doren shared the letter with me. I shared it with library staff and now we are sharing it with you readers:

“Hello Jen,

Holy canasta! It’s me! I can’t believe it’s actually me! You could have picked any of over 2 million books but you picked me! I’ve got to get packed! How is the weather where you live? Will I need a dust jacket? I can’t believe I’m leaving Mishawaka, Ind., already — the friendly people, the Hummer plant, the Linebacker Lounge, so many memories. I don’t have much time to say goodbye to everyone, but it’s time to see the world!

“I can’t wait to meet you! You sound like such a well-read person. Although I have to say, it sure has taken you awhile! I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but how would you like to spend five months sandwiched between ‘Jane Eyre’ (drama queen) and ‘Fundamentals of Thermodynamics’ (pyromaniac)? At least Jane was an upgrade from that stupid book on brewing beer. How many times did the ol’ brewmaster have one too many and topple off our shelf at 2 a.m.?

“I know the trip to meet you will be long and fraught with peril, but after the close calls I’ve had, I’m ready for anything (besides, some of my best friends are suspense novels). Just five months ago, I thought I was a goner. My owner was moving and couldn’t take me with her. I was sure I was landfill bait until I ended up in a Better World book-drive bin. Thanks to your socially conscious book shopping, I’ve found a new home. Even better, your book-buying dollars are helping kids read from Brazil to Botswana.

“But hey, enough about me. I’ve been asked to brief you on a few things:

“We sent your order to the following address …”

It’s fitting when a love of books comes full circle during the season of giving. If you’re disappointed about not having gotten a heartfelt letter recently, don’t be. You can always get one from a book.

Katia Graham is the youth services librarian at the La Jolla/Riford Library. She has a master’s degree in management and library and information science from USC. Questions? Email her at grahamk@sandiego.gov.