Davenport Public Library Dumps 4,000 Books; Other Libraries Do S - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

Davenport Public Library Dumps 4,000 Books; Other Libraries Do Same

This is one of the two garbage bins Malerie Stanforth and Dave Rhoades found filled with Davenport Public Library books. This is one of the two garbage bins Malerie Stanforth and Dave Rhoades found filled with Davenport Public Library books.
One of the Davenport Public Library books pulled from the trash bin is this novel published in 2010. One of the Davenport Public Library books pulled from the trash bin is this novel published in 2010.
Some library books found in the trash bins are stamped with the label "DISCARD." Some library books found in the trash bins are stamped with the label "DISCARD."
Malerie Stanforth and Dave Rhoades in front of Rhoades' SUV filled with hundreds of books thrown out by the Davenport Public Library. Malerie Stanforth and Dave Rhoades in front of Rhoades' SUV filled with hundreds of books thrown out by the Davenport Public Library.

DAVENPORT, Iowa - When employees at Davinci's Café in downtown Davenport step out the back door for a break, they have a clear view of two garbage bins behind the Davenport Public Library. 

The alleyway vista is unremarkable unless you happen to notice the content of the bins:  hundreds of library books.

"They've been throwing them in the Dumpsters for at least the past two months," says Davinci's bartender Brittnee Kaecker, who recently salvaged two of the books for herself.  Both bear multiple marks identifying them as property of the Davenport Public Library and are in such good condition one would assume they had just been checked out rather than pulled from the trash.

"They've thrown out Stephen King, art manuals, lots of good stuff," Kaecker says.

One of the books Kaecker grabbed, the novel 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter, was just published in 2010.  Inside the front cover "DISCARD" is stamped in red ink in all capital letters.

The Rescuers

Early Friday morning, the back of Dave Rhoades' SUV is loaded with hundreds of books.  Wearing dark sunglasses to protect from the late August sun, he runs his hand over the top of the pile.

"I've probably got three, four hundred in here," Rhoades says as he flips over one-by-one an array of works including adult novels, musical instruction manuals, reference materials and children's literature.

"Who doesn't like The Rescuers?" Rhoades queries while holding a kids' novel based on the Disney film.

The mountain of books so consumes Rhoades' SUV that he refuses a request to open the back hatch for fear of an avalanche. 

Like Kaecker, Rhoades helped himself after discovering the Davenport Public Library was dumping books in the trash.

"It's pretty incredible," Rhoades says.  "95% of these books are definitely usable and valuable to someone."

Rhoades' girlfriend, Malerie Stanforth, joined him in a rescue mission that was perhaps not unlike the plot of one of the novels they were saving from the landfill. 

When she could no longer reach the books toward the bottom of the bins, Stanforth played the role of hero by bravely going where she had never gone before.

"I climbed up and got in the Dumpster and went Dumpster diving," Stanforth confessed with an uneasy smile, her voice fading with embarrassment.  "I just couldn't see all these books go to waste."

Rhoades holds up a copy of the 2004 children's book Tito, the Firefighter.  "We looked this one up on Amazon," Rhoades says, "and it was selling for $13 on Amazon."

"We saw they weren't in bad condition," Stanforth adds.  "We couldn't understand why [the Davenport Public Library was] doing this."

An Outrage and a Sin

After KWQC TV6 broke the story of the discarded library books on its website Thursday, the KWQC Facebook fan page (http://on.fb.me/Qg6GFH) began filling with hundreds of angry comments such as "that is an OUTRAGE," "Throwing books away is a SIN," "This disgusts me!" and "I think everyone should boycott that branch!"

"With all of our taxes contiuously [sic] going up how dare they throw them away," Ron Hinz posted.  "The library and the books are for the community, so give them back to them."

Terri Pebsworth wrote, "I would expect a bit more creativity from the library in finding a new home for the books they no longer want.  Those books would be a treasure to the right organization."

Within 48 hours, the Facebook post showing some of the trashed books had been viewed more than 20,000 times and garnered more than 370 comments.  Some came from school teachers like Amanda Elliot who complained, "I could have used those [books] in my classroom!!!"

A Last Resort

Davenport Public Library Director LaWanda Roudebush estimates the library has recently thrown out around 4,000 books that used to be on its shelves.

"We hate it just as much as anyone," explains DPL associate director of customer services Stephanie Schulte. 

Roudebush and Schulte point out that among the discards are books that are no longer usable because they are in poor condition or contain outdated information.  "You don't want a travel guide from 1999," Schulte explains.  "You want 2012." 

However, Schulte acknowledges that for a number of reasons books which are still in good condition with no outdated content have also been sent to the garbage "as a last resort."

The Davenport Public Library has approximately 300,000 books total.  Like any business that stocks inventory, it strives to use its limited storage space to showcase its newest and most desirable inventory to meet customer demand.

"We don't just keep one copy of a popular book on hand," Schulte explains.  "We keep multiple copies so that people don't have to wait."

The problem comes when books, especially those titles for which there are multiple copies, are no longer popular and no longer being checked out.  When the library attempts to sell these books, it is competing with countless other used copies that are available online through websites like Amazon.com. 

At the same time, many of these titles are also available for instant download in digital format.  Because of technology, the supply of a book can often outweigh the demand regardless of whether the book is still being physically published. 

"You would think our [Davenport Public Library] book sale would be packed and that there wouldn't be an item left," Schulte says.  "But that's not the case."

The often disappointing interest in library book sales is echoed by Waterloo Public Library reference administrator Mike Dargan, who complained on KWQC's Facebook fan page that "If people would spend more time at library book sales it wouldn't be necessary to send unwanted books to the land fill."

Even if a library is stuck with books it cannot sell, book rescuer Dave Rhoades does not understand why the library still would not simply give the books away.  "If you put them in a box that says 'free,' Rhoades says, "I guarantee you someone's going to come and get them."

However, Schulte explains that the Davenport Public Library is a government entity and there are legal restrictions on how government property, including library books, can be disposed.  Schulte says a library by law cannot arbitrarily give away books to the general public. 

There are permissible avenues of donating, but because of the abundant supply of books from multiple sources Schulte says library books often cannot even be given away.  "The library has tried places like the jail, nursing home, Salvation Army, Goodwill; we've tried," Schulte says.  "It's just not that easy to give [books] away to different places."

Furthermore, Schulte says glues and other materials many books contain make them ineligible for recycling.

Legal restrictions, limited space, demand, competition and other factors have led the Davenport Public Library to an ugly but arguably necessary practice that libraries would rather not be publicized.

Brown Paper Bags

The Davenport Public Library is not the first to destroy books – nor is it the first to incur public wrath for doing so.  The practice has occurred around the country for decades, occasionally being brought to light by media reports:

  • A July 1, 1993 Rock River Times article describes how the Rockford Public Library in Illinois had thrown away "at least two trash bin full of books" and that "the volume of books being thrown out" had "raised concern."  The article describes the books as being those that were "unused and unwanted."
  • An April 18, 1997 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Free Library of Philadelphia had been "stung by the disclosure that it had dumped hundreds of thousands of books."  The article says the books were "thrown in Dumpsters" and that the library estimated "it tossed 360,000 books over the last three years alone."
  • A February 9, 1999 article in the San Francisco Chronicle reports that "in San Francisco, the practice of discarding books has been under fire since 1996, when it was revealed that volumes were being dumped by the thousands."
  • A February 17, 2010 Times Union report on the William K. Sanford Town Library in Loudonville, New York states that "every couple of weeks a pick-up truck load [of books] gets hauled to the town landfill" where they were "burned."
  • An article in Lakeland, Florida's The Ledger this past January describes how the Winter Haven Library changed its book disposal policy after complaints from "concerned citizens outraged over the discarding of 2,500 books."

Schulte says because of negative public reaction, some libraries before dumping books have been known to cover them in brown paper bags to avoid discovery.

A Weeding Controversy

Every library must somehow get rid of unwanted books to make room for desirable ones, a process known as "weeding."  Given the potential reaction, librarians are directed to try to keep the process even more quiet than the voice level they allow patrons to use.

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission publishes a step-by-step guide for librarians which it says has "become the benchmark tool for weeding library collections." (http://bit.ly/Ryns3M)  Its 2008 publication entitled "A Weeding Manual For Modern Libraries" advises librarians that one option for disposing of unwanted books is to "box them for garbage pickup," adding that "the advantage of this method is that it requires minimal time and effort."

However, the manual goes on to warn that "this method of disposal is likeliest to cause a ‘weeding controversy,' since many people are shocked by the ‘waste' of throwing ‘good books' on the trash heap." The manual advises librarians that if they "can explain that only those books and nonprint items in the worst physical condition get this treatment, you may be able to avert negative publicity." 

And if a library chooses to burn unwanted books, the Texas State Library warns to "be sure the books won't be seen by someone passing by. Citizens might misunderstand the reasons for destroying ‘valuable' books."

The April/May 2005 edition of Library Media Connection magazine, targeting librarians and educators, bemoans the potential public response to weeding.  Old Dominion University education professor Dr. Gail Dickinson writes, "Visions of headlines such as "Librarian Trashes Precious Books" and scores of parent protestors guarding school dumpsters can turn even the most determined library media specialist into an equally determined weeding procrastinator."

Multiple industry publications discuss the destruction of unwanted library books as a necessary evil that the public cannot understand.


Reflecting on the moment she and Rhoades discovered the trash bins filled with library books, Malerie Stanforth describes it as if she had been blindsided by a mystery novel plot twist.  "I couldn't believe it," Stanforth says.  "I was speechless for a couple of minutes." 

She and Rhoades now plan to give the story a happy ending by giving away the books to those who can use them. 

The two would give away more than they have now, but cannot. 

After their first haul Rhoades returned to find the bins again filled with books but this time sealed in by a padlocked cover, which the library says is a routine safety measure.

Locked out, the rescuers' goodwill mission was over as suddenly as it had started.  It was an ironic ending to an odd, unforseen adventure.

Just like something out of a novel.


Follow David Nelson on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/PdyVE3 and on Twitter http://bit.ly/MUP5yV

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