Marking Discards

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 When it arrived, it appeared to be a library book, but it contained no indication that it had been discarded or withdrawn. Is it common for libraries to discard books without indicating on the books that they have been withdrawn from the collection?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 The copy specific record must be flagged as withdrawn, and the copy canceled from display in the online catalog, the bar code record for the circulation system must be cleared, and if it is the last copy in the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and, finally, yes, the library's markings should be augmented in some way so as to indicate that the item was withdrawn.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with the two libraries involved, and can happily report that both books the caller had purchased had been properly withdrawn.

Now why are books withdrawn and how should they be disposed of?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.



I mark through the barcode and call-number, as well as stamp discard over the library’s property stamp inside the book.

All discarded books should simply be stamped "discarded" or "withdrawn."  Trying to remove the library markings will likely damage the book and reduce its artifactual value (should it have any) or make it less serviceable as a reading copy.  I do not understand why weeding librarians can’t take the small amount of time to stamp their discarded books.

The name of the library is often identified either on the barcode or with a property stamp. If so, you can go to that library’s online catalog. If the book with that barcode number still appears in the catalog, there is likely a problem. If the catalog doesn’t display barcodes, it may or may not be the same copy of that book.

Let’s not forget that some people steal books, movies, audiobooks and other material from the library and sell them. There is only so much we can do to stop or discourage this and hopefully it is rare but, sadly, I know it happens.

We’ve actually had item(s) donated to our library, which were not marked… When we contacted the library that owned it, it turned out to not being a discarded item. Of course, they were delighted to get the item(s) back!