Librarians with a sense of purpose — and humor
Believe it or not, this is the cover of a book from 1993, when apparently, the acme of telecommunications was the cordless phone and the pay phone. I’ll pause a moment while the older members of the audience explain to those under 25 what a “pay phone” was. More incredibly, this book is still on the shelf at a library somewhere in the United States.
You can find this and other hilarious examples of obsolete library books at Awful Library Books, a blog set up by Mary Kelly and Holly Hibner, who describe themselves as Michigan librarians dedicated to exposing books “we find amusing and maybe questionable for public libraries trying to maintain a current and relevant collection.”
The blog has fast become a minor Internet phenom since its start in February, with more than 30,000 hits a day. But really, what bibliophile could resist a site that highlights such volumes as It’s Your Future! Catalyst’s Career Guide for High School Girls (1984), or Nice Girls Do–and now you can, too! (1983–yes, it’s a guide to female orgasm), or how about Ethics in Business (1963)? These are all books mouldering on America’s library shelves, crowding out more recent and useful volumes.
As Holly notes about the ancient business ethics book: “Martha Stewart, Enron, WorldCom…all came long after this book. I mean, the Internet didn’t exist in 1963, so business was conducted very differently back then.”
Some other recent examples (this is addictive, like potato chips): Phunology (1923) — yes, it’s a reference book on parlor games; The Love Bugs: A Natural History of the V.D’s (1974) — “I haven’t heard the terms VD or love bugs in at least 30 years. Would today’s teens even know what this book is about?” notes Mary; Teacher Spanks Johnny (1968), which advises “five blows with a ping-pong paddle is not unreasonable force.”
Even the “About This Site” is chucklesome: “In no way should the opinions of Mary and Holly be interpreted as a standard for every library. We just want to have a few chuckles and talk about library collections….Comments are welcome, but we do ask everyone to ‘be nice’ and use your library voice.”
Awful Library Books also includes contributions from librarians around the country, most anonymous. The part of the website listing the credentials of Mary and Holly and offering their services as speakers and consultants is called “Will Weed For Food.”
Great fun, true, and I acknowledge the need to keep library collections up to date. Still, I’ve haunted library stacks since the age of six, and I have to say, somewhat wistfully, that obsolete books have always been part of the charm, offering as they do an accidental view straight into the way people thought and wrote in earlier times.
Maybe Mary and Holly should send the volumes they weed from modern libraries to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, an institution found, alas, only in the novels of Carlos Ruiz Zafon.