Q. I recently purchased a used book online. When it arrived, it appeared to be a library book, but it contained no indication that it had been discarded or withdrawn. Is it common for libraries to discard books without indicating on the books that they have been withdrawn from the collection? How can average book buyers know that they are not purchasing stolen property?
A. Withdrawing a book may be nearly as complex as adding a book, as there are several steps the library must take in order to keep its inventory accurate. The copy specific record must be flagged as withdrawn, and the copy canceled from display in the online catalog, the bar code record for the circulation system must be cleared, and if it is the last copy in the system, the entire cataloging record canceled, both locally and in any collaborative database(s). The security tape must be desensitized, and, finally, yes, the library's markings should be augmented in some way so as to indicate that the item was withdrawn. Each library will have specific local procedures.
This is not the first time someone has contacted us about whether a used book was "ex-library." In one case I did check with the two libraries involved, and can happily report that both books the caller had purchased had been properly withdrawn.
Now why are books withdrawn and how should they be disposed of? On our ALA Library Fact Sheet 15 Weeding Library Collections: A Selected Annotated Bibliography for Library Collection Evaluation we cite a now 100-year old article explaining the benefits of weeding (Wynkoop, Asa. "Discarding Useless Material." Wisconsin Library Bulletin. 7, no. 1 (1911): 53). A judiciously weeded collection may get heavier use, as the titles are current, fresh-looking, and reflective of user needs.
As for discarding the materials, there may be local laws to follow, or everything can be turned over for sale either locally or through a national agency.'