Libraarans: How Long Are Novels kept?

Just a question…I was at my local libray, poking about he “books for sale” pile. It struck me that fiction authors from the 1920’s-1930’s are getting hard to find (I was unable to find a copy of “The Maltese Falcon”). I also note that a lot of 1960’s stuff is hardly ever checked out…at waht pont does a typical library purge out all of its unread novels? I can’t imagine anybody in 2055 reading anything written by Jaquelin Susanne (like “Valley of the Dolls”).
Classic 19th century writers are well represent…you are more likely to find a Dickens or Twain novel than a 1950’s American novelist.
How do libraries determine when to discard this stuff?

Well, my mom was a librarian. She says that at her library, anything that had fewer than 3 checkouts in a 5 year period usually went on the “sell” pile. Exceptions were made, of course. Certain reference books, for example, stay around until there is a new edition issued. Novels, as noted, tended to have a short shelf life.

For most libraries, weeding is an ongoing process that is based on several factors:

1- how much shelf space is available?
2- when was the last time this book was checked out? (Computerized catalogs can instantly spit out reports on books that haven’t been checked out in the past five years or whatever)
3- is this a “classic”?
4- is the author still alive? (Pelican Brief for example doesn’t circulate much anymore, but since Grisham is still alive and writing bestsellers you can expect people to check it out when his next book comes out as either they’ve never read it or want to re-read it while they’re in a Grisham mood)
On average (I’m a college librarian rather than a public librarian so we handle it differently) and if plenty of space is available, seven years is a pretty good life for a writer whose work was popular but never super-popular. A John Grisham or Stephen King will stick around for much longer, a fad diet probably for a little less.

In addition to the above, the central library in a city will be much more likely to keep books than will its branch libraries. Most of these larger libraries have “stacks,” non-publicly-accessible areas in which books are kept to be taken out only when requested. This is much easier to do today with online categories from which anyone can ask that a book be sent to a local library.

Selling duplicate copies is perfectly acceptable - image how many unused copies of Harry Potter books will be on the shelves in a decade’s time. Disposing of a single (or the final) copy of a book is much less likely. As Exapno Mapcase points out, these may be stored out of public sight, or where numerous branches operate as one unit it may be on any number of shelves in any number of locations.

A random search of my local library service’s catalogue: 21 copies of Bleak House vs. 80 copies of To Kill a Mockingbird.

If you ever find yourself in Williamsport,PA, check out the Brodart factory. They sell books discarded by libraries (last time I was there it was for a dollar or two). Some libraries that don’t have a lot (or any) professional staff, lease new books from companies like Brodart. The company does all the work of deciding what a library will need from month to month, and they get them back to sell when their time is up. You can buy entire pallets of books from them, and set up a ready made library!

Most of what you find are a year or two old. When a book is new and hot, libraries often get more than one copy, but as time passes and they are checked out less, they can get rid of all their duplicates.

I’ve got some heavy duty hard cover books with stamps from libraries around the country in my personal collection - and I didn’t have to steal a single one.

One other reason that books get weeded that should be pointed out. Books are often weeded when they become too damaged to circulate. While it might be theoretically possible to rebind a book, it is more likely (today) that the book will be discarded. This can also contribute to books of a certain age being harder to locate than books that are neither new enough to be in demand or old enough to be deemed classic.

This may be especially true with paperback books, like romances. Not only do the contents age fairly badly, but the books themselves only hold up for a limited number of readings. When they are too badly damaged, they are withdrawn.

Well, when my largish public library gets a crapload of the latest bestseller, most of them are rented and will go back to the leasing company after awhile. We are not going to own a billion and a half copies of The DaVinci Code forever, I assure you. A major problem with bestsellers, however, as Eureka pointed out, is damage. Paperbacks take a lot of damage, particularly. Older books can take a lot of damage as their acid paper ages.

Lost and missing books are also less likely to be replaced as they age and are not heavily checked out. I’m surprised you couldn’t find The Maltese Falcon, however, as “classics” tend to be retained and repurchased in the event of loss. Not to mention, that’s one that has been reissued several times.

Space is, of course, always an issue.

Was “The Maltese Falcon” not in the catalog? That would be a surprise.

It’s more likely it was just checked out.

I read it as “The Maltese Falcon” was not found in the books for sale pile, not that it was unavailable for circulation.

I live by my local library’s discard table. They are still selling hardcovers for 25 cents each, paperbacks for a dime, and it’s on the honor system so if you don’t happen to have pocket change or four boks you want, you can just steal the book…

Um, not that I would ever do such a thing.

Ahh that makes more sense.

I’m discarding books in my library. I’m in the management section. Lots of very cliched stuff that we had to buy several copies of when they came out, but aren’t needed as much anymore.