Who should weed the books?

I’ve been ripping the barcodes off books, DVDs, magazines and CDs again. I’ve been asked to magic-marker away all mention of the library from the items I’m weeding.

The year I taught in Hasidic schools in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, every single image of females and animals was magic-markered away in ugly black smudges in all the books we worked with.

I get the idea behind weeding. Libraries need room for the new. They need to cater to the tastes of those who go to a library. You take out markings so the books don’t end up back into circulation.


I sort of get the idea of restricting imagery, too. Certain religious education wants to limit distractions. Members of the opposite sex, and possible pets, are distracting.

Most of the self-published books that have worked their way into our library collection find their way out if no one reads them. The same happens for William Faulkner. Even James Patterson, Academy Award-winning films such as Driving Miss Daisy or The English Patient, and most classical music got the ax at the library in our part of town.

The reason Hasidism continues to exist, along with Hutterites and Mennonites and many stubborn old-school religious and societal groups, is by relentlessly holding on to what defines them.

We’ve had centuries of accumulation, and the architectural and sculptural memorialization of an entire past way of life. Now others are wanting some say in what stays and goes. Will there still be a canon of accepted greatness, or have those days passed?

I wonder, magic marker in hand, whether librarians are trying to replace the curated records of what has been with simulations of what is.

Why shouldn’t such decisions be made by communities that use a library, and not just by those with degrees in library science? Otherwise, one ends up with something akin to a religion’s enforced restrictions.


Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.

There is one comment

  1. Parnassus Records

    Weeding of libraries IS done by the community, by using or not using items. Those ignored for a certain amount of time must be discarded to make room for new acquisitions. Librarians will sometimes decide that an item which hasn’t circulated for a long time is still essential and they’ll keep it. This is the way things ought to be done. Leslie Gerber, Woodstock

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