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Awful Library Books at the BPL

Rogue librarianship. That's what I discovered this past week and it was glorious.

I recently had the good fortune to meet a librarian who is subject to scandal in the funniest way possible.  While I won't share the librarian's name or identity, I did gain permission to tell you all about my new acquaintance's mischievous antics.

Some of you might be familiar with the blog "Awful Library Books." In case you aren't, the blog showcases found library materials that are out-of-date, offensive, or just plain weird, making it a great site for a daily giggle.  Some recent featured titles include "The Breakthrough Fish Taxidermy Manual" and the curious "The Hospital Doctors, Nurses, and Mystery Workers."  The situation that I share with you began as preparation for this site: as a frequent submitter, the rogue used the Boston Public Library's tagging feature available in their catalog to keep track of strange titles worthy of future "Awful Library Books."  Anonymously, the librarian added the tag "awful library book" to items that they wanted to scan and submit to the site later on.  The tag did not go unnoticed, however.  My acquaintance was emailed (through the BPL catalog) by several librarians at the Boston Public Library who were none too happy about this label, especially as they initially had no idea that the tagger in question was a fellow librarian. 

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Then, a reporter at Boston.com picked up the story and wrote an article about both the "Awful Library Books" blog and catalog tag, explaining the practice of weeding books to the general public.  The BPL librarian interviewed sounds a lot more understanding and light-humored than he allegedly was when he contacted my new acquaintance.  I definitely recommend giving the article a quick read, if only to discover more very strange titles that the Boston Public Library still has in circulation "for research purposes."

While the whole situation is rather outrageous with its anonymous vigilante, angry librarians, and media interest, it definitely brings up real questions about the weeding practices within public libraries.  Specifically with the Boston Public Library, which maintains a massive off-site storage building that supposedly houses these weed-worthy titles and whose main Copley Square building is currently undergoing a massive renovation, it brings up a lot of questions regarding the institution's priorities.  Where do we draw the line between archival significance and materials that are out-of-date, ridiculous, and simply taking up valuable space?  Are titles like "Why Cats Paint" really that important for research purposes? 

Let me know what you think, or at the very least enjoy the cringe-worthy titles in the various links I've shared.

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