Mail Bag: A real librarian weighs in

A few weeks ago in her Help Desk column, Cienna Madrid responded to a question from Alyssa about tidying up the neighborhood Little Free Library. Today's Mail Bag is from an actual librarian. You can always read more of Cienna's columns on her archive page, and reach out to us if you'd like to comment on anything we publish.

Dear Cienna —

I greatly enjoy your column. Your advice to the person who wrote in about inappropriate stuff in the local Little Free Library and wanting to clean it out was right on, except for one aspect I disagree with: she should not tape a note to the LFL about her plans to clean it out.

Here's what I've observed as a professional book person: other people tend to believe books are sacred objects, and that all books have worth and must be preserved. That's not true. Look, I love them, but after a certain point books are just rotting piles of paper giving off weird smells and luring roaches to your house. Boxes of books that have been in the garage for 25 years have no monetary worth and little intrinsic usefulness, yet people persist in believing someone else will want to read a brittle, smelly paperback by some dead author. As a librarian, part of my job is assuming their recycling guilt. I accept this.

I don't know what kind of weaponry one brings to a neighborhood book fight, so best sidestep all together. Let the neighbors believe that someone from the future came across the Windows 99 user books and took back to sell or crack Bill Gates' files, and the original letter writer should pat herself on the back and hide the culls under a pizza box.


Kerry Howell

Cienna responds:

Dear Kerry,

You are absolutely right: people place too much importance on books as sacred objects. That is why I am a firm believer in, and advocate of, book burnings. There's nothing more heartwarming than a community bonfire filled with musty books, hosted somewhere roomy like the parking lot of a generous church. They turn the solitary act of reading into an activity the whole family can enjoy!

Seattle people are especially fussy about their garbage. (That is why everyone now owns at least three trashcans.) The note was a formality to buffer the sender, Alyssa, from getting yelled at by fussy people who don't want their tiny garbage temple messed with. But in an ideal world, that note would be unnecessary, librarians would curate top-notch book burnings on top of all the other great work they do, and I would have my pinkies replaced with rattlesnake rattles.

Thank you for writing, Kerry, and for your service.