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Let’s team up to save our books

You’ve heard of “rescue dogs”—mistreated canines who are given new homes by caring humans. Here in Boston, because of a stupid decision made by the leadership of the Boston Public Library, we may need to coin a new term: “rescue books.” That may be the only way to insure that the library bosses don’t take hundreds of thousands of books off the shelves and sell or destroy them. 

It’s hard to believe, but the leaders of the Boston Public Library recently put in place a policy that directs librarians at branch libraries to remove books from shelves if they are not taken out for three to five years.  They say the books are then sold to places like amazon.com or even “recycled.” Recycling a book essentially means that it is turned into a paper bag, so it’s essentially destroying the book. We may be 30 years past 1984 now, but apparently we are not past the sort of bureaucratic double talk prophesied in the George Orwell’s book. “Recycling” books, they say? They’re dumping them. Take heart, at least they’re not burning books—for now. 

So, if by chance in your branch library, no one borrows Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, or Jane Austen’s Emma, or Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, or Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms or Homer’s The Odyssey or a Boston children’s favorite like Make Way for Ducklings or Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail frequently enough, those books will get sold or recycled into paper bags?  And when a child, teen, or adult goes to take one of them out after the deadline and that book has been destroyed, where do those patrons turn?  To amazon.com where they can purchase the book that used to be free?

The reason for this purge, according to BPL President Amy Ryan, is to free up space for more important library functions.  No one would dispute the fact that libraries increasingly do a great deal more than provide books to the public. They are unemployment offices where people write their resumes and search for jobs on the computers. They are afterschool havens where kids can go to learn, do their homework, take classes, and talk to friends. They are elderly drop-in centers. They are homeless shelters providing warmth to street people.  They are computer labs and galleries for artists’ work.But, we don’t need to strip our libraries of books so they can continue to serve these many needs.

I’m sure Boston Public Library President Amy Ryan has abilities and accomplishments or she would not have gotten that job.  But we also know her as the leader who tried a few years back to close a number of neighborhood libraries, including our own Lower Mills branch. Only a citywide protest caused her and Mayor Menino to back off.

But Ms. Ryan is back, this time with an attack on the very books on the shelves of branch libraries citywide. She’s already gotten rid of tens of thousands of them and she will get rid of hundreds of thousands more unless we stop her. Watch out residents of Cedar Grove, Neponset, Popes Hill, Fields Corner, Codman Square, Four Corners, Ashmont, Savin Hill, Meeting House Hill, Grove Hall, Andrew Square, and Wellington Hill because they are stealing away your books.

We need grass roots strategies to deal with Ms. Ryan and the books that she is abandoning. Go to the library and check out your favorite books, or any books for that matter, to save them from extinction.  We don’t want to overwhelm the local librarians who are horrified too at losing our books, but maybe we need to go and take out 10 books and then hand them right back in so they get off the execution list for awhile.  

Most branches have “Friends of the Library” groups and they can add to their mission to be sure to check out the endangered books to prolong their lives. And we could just all speak out to put pressure on the Boston Public Library leaders to stop this ridiculous policy altogether. Mayor Walsh, could you please call Ms. Ryan and tell her to back off on killing our books?

It will be a wonderful feeling that when we take out a book, we are saving it from being turned into a paper bag. So please rescue them.

Lew Finfer is a Dorchester resident.