WASHINGTON – Della Curtis calls it her “shelf of shame” — books culled from Baltimore County school library shelves that should have been tossed years ago.
The shelf includes such titles as “Great American Negroes” from 1945, “Contemporary Math” from 1964 and “The Japanese: How They Live and Work,” from 1973.
But school librarians like Curtis, the coordinator of the Baltimore County Office of Library Information Services, find themselves in a catch-22 when faced with a book like 1961’s “I Want to Be a Homemaker.”
If they throw out all the books that deserve to be tossed, they could easily fall below state standards for school library collection sizes, since there is little or no money to replace books.
If they keep them, they are in danger of letting students get information from books like “A Family in the USSR,” a 1986 book on Curtis’ shelf about life in a country that no longer exists.
“I don’t want to give children the wrong information because I don’t think they are old enough to decide which is wrong or correct,” said Barbara Marmon, library media specialist at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School in Prince George’s County.
But Marmon said she cannot possibly get rid of everything that is outdated.
“I have 10 encyclopedia sets and only two are from the ’90s. I can’t throw away eight sets,” Marmon said.
Maryland Department of Education standards call for elementary school libraries to have 12,000 items, middle schools to have a collection of 15,000 items and high schools to have 18,000.
But as librarians throw out inaccurate, old books, without having the funding to replace them, libraries continue to fall below state standards.
Andrew Jackson Middle School in Prince George’s County has fallen way below standards. The school’s media specialist, Amy Young-Buckler, said the collection has 5,200 books, and about one-third of those are outdated.
But Young-Buckler does not have the funding to keep the library up to state standards. Her library just lost almost half of its funding for this year.
Carolyn Marlow, library media specialist at Garrett Heights Elementary School in Baltimore City, said that 50 to 75 percent of the books in her collection need to go. But administrators are more interested in buying computers.
“I’m happy to have computers, but I’d like to have some books,” Marlow said. “I know it’s a necessity and children won’t function without that (computer) knowledge in the real world, but it’s a double-edged sword.
“We can’t just say they can go to another library or buy books because in Baltimore City, that’s not always a possibility. Some don’t have transportation or money to buy books,” she said.
Marlow said she does get rid of some books, even though she cannot replace them, but her weeding has not been very thorough because “the stuff I wanted to get rid of is just about everything here.”
While the state does set standards for collection size, it does not have quality standards, said Gail Bailey, branch chief of school library media services for the state Department of Education. But Bailey said the state “might get closer to that later this year.”
Curtis said the quality of books is much more important than their quantity.
“I feel like it’s better to have nothing on the shelves than to have misinformation,” she said. “We betray children when we put out information that is incorrect.”