Every year the Kansas City Public Library sheds nearly 90,000 books. Librarians call it “weeding,” as if their shelves were gardens.
The books, which may be dated, worn or simply unpopular, are pulled to make room for more relevant selections. On Saturday the library offered several thousand of those books to the public at the City Market.
“We found some books that hadn’t been checked out for 10 years,” said Tom Platt, president of Friends of the Kansas City Public Library.
Obsolete books on science, health and electronics are among the first to go. There’s not much demand for a book on how to navigate the “information superhighway” when you’ve got Facebook on your phone.
This sale had a little of everything, ranging from Sen. Orrin Hatch’s “Square Peg: Confessions of a Citizen Senator” to Philip Roth’s “I Married a Communist.”
A few of the books were so popular they became tattered and had to be replaced.
Some enjoyed only fleeting popularity. That best-seller from 2005? If it wasn’t a classic, out it went.
“I’m pretty sure that 10 years from now we won’t be keeping anything from the Kardashians,” said Kaite Stover, director of reader services.
On Saturday, buyers snapped up good deals. Schoolteachers stocked up on children’s books. Others just looked for something interesting or useful.
“I like the travel stuff,” said Curtis Raymer of Lenexa, who bought a book on Utah’s Zion National Park. “You can’t beat a buck, right?”
Choosing which books to sell is sometimes painful.
“Fiction is the hardest to weed,” Stover said.
A deserving first-time novel with no audience might get a little help with a blurb or review on the library’s website. Or a librarian might place it more prominently.
“Libraries are very generous,” Stover said. “We’ll do everything we can to find an audience for a book.”
Still, some collect dust for years before software such as Collection HQ gives them their literary pink slip.
Libraries only have so much space. While they will still accept donated books, they usually sell them. Fewer than one in 100 winds up on a library shelf.
The library, which also sells books at kiosks inside its locations, offers books at the City Market on the first Saturday of every month from May to October. It makes about $500 to $600 during a typical Saturday sale.
Paperbacks go for 50 cents, while most hardbacks are a dollar.
“The reason we’re here is to get the books to the public and have a community of readers,” Platt said.
Just don’t expect to find collectibles. Donated books are usually castoffs, and even a first edition book loses most of its value with that “property of” stamp.