Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Guest Post: Jeanne on Library Donations in Memoriam

Jeanne of the Bookblog of the Bristol Public Library is back today with a deeply personal post on the subject of donating books to the library…

When I was growing up, one of the only acceptable ways of paying respects to the dead was to send flowers to the funeral. One also sent food to the living, attended the wake, and of course the funeral.  The standard time between death and the funeral was at least three days, to give enough time to notify relatives and friends, and for them to have the chance to travel to the funeral.

Things have changed quite a bit in the past few decades.  For one thing, the wake—also known as “sitting up with the dead” in my region, a reflection of when such things were held in the family parlor—is now largely visitation (“The family will receive friends..”) and since a jumble of relatives don’t usually descend for the week, folks have cut down on the food offerings a bit.  Some funerals have taken place within a day of passing or else been held up for weeks as a memorial service has taken the place of a traditional funeral with a body in a casket.  Death notices in the newspaper have become less of a given, now that many papers charge for such notices.

Another change is the floral tribute which, I am sure, has been very difficult for the florists.  Instead of automatically accepting flowers, many notices carry a list of suitable places to make donations in honor of the deceased.   I have to say that is a change I applaud; while I always appreciated seeing the flowers, knowing that one can help defray funeral expenses for the family or contribute to a charity near and dear to the person seems a much more useful way to express one’s sympathy.

For me, that has become donating a book to the library in memory of the person.  In fact, twice a year I make a donation to the library back in our home town in honor of my mother, a voracious reader who would have loved having a library at her disposal.  When she was growing up, there was no county library; when I was growing up, there was a library at the county seat but not in our town. My mother was on the Regional Library Board and advocated for a library for our town. We did finally get one just about four years before we moved away.  It was in the town hall, above the jail, in a room not exactly designed to held thousands of pounds of weight.  The floor bowed in several places. One always had the feeling one could go in for a book and end up in a cell.

The library now has a new home on a ground floor and has room for more books, though not the budget. With my donation, I allow the library to do the selection based on the current needs of their readers.  After all, there’s little reason to select a book that will just gather dust on the shelves.  I do give some broad guidelines.  For example, my mother had a love of history and genealogy, so books about our region are good choices. She also loved mysteries and historical sagas, so things in that genre—especially large print, as that was her salvation when she developed macular degeneration—are excellent choices.  When the books are selected, a plate goes inside with her name on it.  I like to think that some reader picks the book up and takes a moment to be grateful that Negetha G. Powers is remembered in that way. 

I know that’s my reaction with the collection here.  There are any number of books with memorial plates or “In honor of” plates.  If it’s a subject I especially enjoy, I feel a bit of kinship to the person named.   A few years back, we lost a wonderful patron who was a devoted knitter, especially of socks.  With the donations we bought a number of knitting books, adding greatly to the collection.  Not long after a patron came up, looking a bit puzzled.  She too is an avid knitter and had been through most of the books in our collection.  She pointed to the plate and said, “What does this mean?” I explained, and her face lit up.  “Ah, what a nice lady!” she said.

So this is my pitch for the day. It comes about as we have lost a long time staff member, one who was also an omnivorous reader.  My choices for her were easy:  I just chose the books she had put on reserve but which were not yet published at the time she passed. I know she was itching to read the next Mike Lawson and Lee Child.

At a time when books, authors, and libraries are feeling the pinch, when many readers have had financial setbacks and are living on limited incomes, giving a book to a library pays it forward in so many ways. 

The views expressed herein are my own and not those of other person or instititution.


Shalanna said...

You've punched one of my hottest hot buttons! I have attempted over and over to donate the books that I have written to the library here, and they have repeatedly rebuffed me. "Our selection committee buys the books. If you donate a book, it goes straight into the library sale."

Oh, really? I know this was not the case in the past, when my dad used to donate his books and donate books in memory of his dad and various people, for example. Of course, that was 40 years ago. (Showing my age again.) However . . . why would they not want a book written by a "homegirl" who has lived here most of her life, was born here, and is a member of the community? Why would they not want to take a book that is NOT on the shelves . . . and they'd rather buy 16 copies of whatever flavor-of-the-month there is that will be forgotten in a couple of years' time and will go into that same library sale? Once upon a time, I discovered many authors just as they were about to hit it big, and I discovered many authors who appealed to me but were not "best-sellers."

As for me having no say at all in the matter . . . I am a homeowner here, as were my parents before me. My tax dollar already pays for all those DVDs they lend out, and all those computers they have, AND their salaries. The library is quite different from the beautiful place I used to go when I was in junior high through high school, a place I went to do research and discover great classics. I used to go through the old bound volumes of LOOK and LIFE and get the articles that were about those public figures I was assigned to do reports on, and thus I had what the people of the time thought of those figures. You can probably do such research online or via microfilm now--but when I used to page through those old STOPETTE ads and various kitschy retro things, I was entering history for a moment. It's different. Others might claim it's better. Well . . . I won't be discovering Benchley now by looking up Thurber as I did in fifth grade. No card catalog for haphazard discoveries.

Shut up now!! Rant over!! Okay. I'll shut up. Still, I think any library should have a "Local Authors" shelf and should feel the obligation to the community that pays for its building and A/C and salaries and so forth, the obligation to support the community itself. Nope, we know better. You are nothing! We are the smart ones!! We need 20 copies of some silly vapid flavor-of-the-month book NOW! Get rid of that crap nobody has checked out over the past year, even if it's a classic!

(I don't have any money to donate. If I did, I would give it to people who cannot pay for their medical treatment, because I feel that is more pressing. I suppose if you give money to the library that would otherwise go to some blowhard political candidate, that's an improvement. . . .)

Aubrey Hamilton said...

My library won't accept books to be added to the collection, either. They go straight into the library book sale. They explained to me one day that the work involved in prepping the book is just too much and they have no staff to do it.

In my family sending flowers is mandatory so I have little latitude there anyway. But with friends and coworkers, I usually donate to the cause of their choice. So much more practical to my way of thinking.

Thank you for a thought-provoking post.

teaberry said...

Every library has its own collection policy. Accepting any book offered can be problematical, which is why most will not promise to add any donated book to the collection. If asked, most will be happy to return any book not added to the collection. At my local library, we do get a lot of donations that end up in the gift shop or are cycled out to other places. They also accept suggestions of books to buy even without a donation. Having a selection committee is pretty standard. Space is a basic need for my library. It's almost to "buy a new book, toss an older book" for non-fiction. That's not necessarily a bad thing to freshen the collection, but when one gets a donation of seven or eight volumes of the Life and Writings of L. Ron Hubbard and the two books already held about Mr. Hubbard don't circulate, it becomes a more difficult decision of what to discard. That's why when I donate a book to the library I give broad guidelines of what I would like so they can choose a book that will be used. There's no point in giving a book, even on a topic near and dear, that will just sit on the shelves. Even tastes in fiction vary by location; science fiction may fly off the shelves in one place and just gather dust in another. A best selling author in New York may never check out in Utah, but an author who never even makes that list might be wildly popular. The same discretion applies to local authors. The library does accept and even buy some local authors'books; it's done case by case, the way it is with every other book. I'm sorry that you feel ill used by your local library. In my limited experience, the librarians try very hard to make their communities happy with their choices. I would suggest that you talk with your local library director, find out their policies and the reasons behind them. Find out if they accept recommdations and if so, make some. I wish you all the best.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Libraries do prefer to purchase books for the collection. Donations well meant as they may be are often not appropriate for the collection. I often donate my own novels for the books sales as it raises money for the library through Friends of the Library organization. The last presentation I did for the library that is local in our town, I sold some of my most recent novels for a fraction of the regular price and donated every cent to the Friends so they could sponsor more programs for the community. It's a way that writers such as myself can give back to our readers.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I'm happy to say that my local library has purchased copies of all my books except one (which I gave them), and I regularly donate books for the book sale. My library also has a room devoted to the history of our town and area. But I know that other libraries in the area are not so welcoming to donations. Our library was recently renovated and expanded, so they have room to add to the collections, but as the staff members have changed over the years, with new people coming in and others retiring, I don't receive quite the same reception. I no longer know everyone who works there, though they seem to know me, but I try to keep up with their thinking on the collections. I've made suggestions for programs and been rebuffed. When I wanted to do a mystery writers' panel, I had to argue and push and finally got the go-ahead, but it was work. The program was extremely well attended, to the surprise of the librarians, but I don't think it changed any attitudes. Libraries develop their policies, and I guess we have to live with them. I'm just glad the library is here, keeps buying books, and makes an effort to expand services and respond to readers' requests.

Chris Eboch said...

If you want to donate hard copies of books (instead of donating money for the library to buy books of their choice) it's definitely a good idea to talk with the staff to see what will happen. I know most libraries put most donated books into the book sale. However, there are exceptions. I live in a small town and have a friendly relationship with the children's librarian. I've donated 10 or 15 of my (traditionally published) educational books for young people. I talked with her first and let her know that anything she wasn't going to put on the shelf, I'd like returned to me. She kept everything except a couple of books she already had on the shelf. There is no guarantee she'll keep them for years if they don't circulate, but at least they'll be available for a while. I've also donated some of my educational nonfiction and some of my children's fiction to a new school for Navajo children that was trying to build up a library. There are options for donating books you've written – but you may need to work a little harder to find them.

Unknown said...

I often buy British mysteries on Amazon.uk, and once I received a duplicate shipment of three new police procedurals by famous and very popular writers. When I asked Amazon what to do about the embarrassment of riches, I was told not to bother to ship the extra copies back to England, just give them away. So I asked my local library staff if they would like to add the three books to their shelves or would they prefer that I donate them to the Friends of the Library book shop. They were delighted to accept the books for circulation, since they were brand new hardbacks and the authors' works were in great demand. So I guess it's a good idea to ask first before feeling rebuffed.