The last thing you expect to see in a wood waste pile is boxes of library books.
But that’s just what Anthony Keeping found last week when he went to the South Cariboo Landfill. Keeping, an avid reader, was shocked and angered to find so many books — many of them in good condition — thrown away.
“My heart sank. It’s a shame to see good books going to waste,” Keeping said. “There was a bit of everything really. Children’s books, science books and some good general reading books. There were a lot of books there.”
100 Mile House Area Librarian Shelby Byer said that while she hates to throw books out, the reality is that “weeding” the collection is a necessary part of how a library functions. It’s only by getting rid of old or uncirculated books, about five to 10 per cent of the library’s holdings a year, that she’s able to bring in new titles for the community to enjoy and read.
“Most of our fiction and books that don’t circulate well appear in good condition, but we may have ordered them 10 years ago and they’ve only gone out twice,” Byer said.
Byer said books that end up being disposed of are either rarely circulated, damaged or out of date. She said that out-of-date political and scientific texts are pulled from the shelves and thrown away to avoid the potential spread of misinformation.
The library donates what it can to local groups, but Byer said they also run out of space. While there are programs that take library books in the Lower Mainland, she said they’re too far north to make use of them, so they’re forced to send them to a waste disposal site.
The CRD’s supervisor of solid waste management, Tera Grady, said that unwanted books have been a problem at CRD landfills for years now. Grady said the CRD’s share sheds regularly fill up with unwanted books, and that many of them were simply ending up in the landfill.
“There is no provincial recycling program for books, so the only option for disposal in most regional districts is landfill, and we’re trying to divert as much as we can from the landfill.”
In 2020 and 2021 Grady said the CRD decided to look into the feasibility of grinding the discarded books with waste wood to produce fuel for the Atlantic Power plant in Williams Lake. After a trial run in Williams Lake that proved it was a viable solution, they began implementing it at other landfills, including 100 Mile House earlier this year. To date, she said they have processed 500kg of book waste from their 100 Mile site.
“We take books from the share sheds that have been there for extended periods of time, from the universities, from School District 27 schools, and our CRD libraries,” Grady said. “Most of those books are outdated, in poor shape or are just unwanted. Rather than landfill them we are able to use them for fuel for the co-gen plant.”
Grady said that anyone with questions or concerns about the CRD’s management of solid waste can contact her at 250-392-3351 or email@example.com. She also asks anyone with a substantial number of books they can’t sell or donate to let her know before they come to the landfill, so they can be set aside for grinding.
She added that libraries typically dispose of their books by selling them at library sales or by giving them away to the public. However, the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed such activities, and Byer said 100 Mile hasn’t had a sale since 2019, meaning she is running out of space to store old books.
“I was planning on reaching out to the Friends of the Library organization in the new year to discuss when we would be able to hold another book sale, but I know they’re in dire need of help,” Byer explained. “There are only a few of them that are in the organization and a full book sale would run for an entire day.
”We do have a mini book sale right by the front door because we’re limited to just a table, but unfortunately it hasn’t been very popular since the summer. It’s by donation, cash only.”
Byer said anyone wanting to volunteer for a future book sale should reach out to Liz Christianson, the head of the Friends of the Library, at 250-395-4365. She also asks that the public refrain from donating any books published more than five years ago, as per their policy they’re unable to use them.
“Every library in the world basically has to do this. Weeding is a part of running a library, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to bring in new materials,” Byer said. “We’re always careful with it but it’s what’s necessary.”
Keeping said that while his initial outrage has faded since he talked to the CRD, he still feels that there has to be a better solution than turning used books into fuel. Whether that means donating them or selling them, he feels there is a “lot of reading” left in these books, and they should go to people who want to enjoy them.
“Everyone enjoys far too much screen time and not enough page time,” Keeping said. “Reading is a good way to help your brain creativity and imagination.”