Culling the Library

When we visited Taiwan this past January we were able to see the fruition of many years of work and bother, the new library of Tainan Theological College. We couldn’t easily avoid the project during the final 3 years of our residence there. Noise, dust and ugliness accompany many construction projects. I can take NO credit for the project. None. But I did serve on the school’s “library committee” for a couple years before the project (the product of other committees) was put into action.

I recall a committee meeting at which the director of library services put forth the idea that the old facility was bursting with unneeded books and proposed culling the collection to get some relief. Culling is a job that ALL libraries undertake, if not continually, then periodically. The problem at Tainan was not that too many unused books had been purchased over the years, but that too many of the books on the shelves had been donated to the library, often from the collections of alumni who had, in pious phraseology, “gone on to greater glory”, and whose studies had been cleared out by widows or descendants. What those who opposed culling feared was that one of these descendants might visit and seek “the book my father used” that had been donated years or decades before. If that book were the only copy in the library’s holdings, it might well be on the shelf. But often the donated book was “copy 4, 6 or 12” and was no longer even assigned for reading or reference by any of the faculty.


My local library in Holland, MI is wonderful. If you want to check out books, DVDs or even some types of equipment, it’s either got it or can get it. I carry a card in my billfold.  But there’s also a tool library in my neighborhood, run by a non-profit. I’ve been a member almost since arriving here in 2018. This library is maintained by volunteers, and of late doesn’t even have office hours. Borrowing and return of items is run by appointment. It’s in a single-car garage, and has a good online catalog, , but had become rather messy of late. I joined the volunteers one morning last week, and in about 90 minutes we had put the place in order. 

Some of what was done involved culling. That wasn’t difficult when the library was holding three of anything big. What made it feel like the library in Taiwan, though, was a box of rather rusty saws which had come because somebody had downsized or moved out of a house into a retirement apartment. Those tools were “emotionally connected” to the neighborhood and the relationships that led to their being donated to the organization. 

Culling is more than a matter of space on the shelves or in the catalog. Sometimes it comes with relational peril.

David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan. 


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