when to withdraw cookbooks?

When the illustrations resemble something that might appear in James Lilek’s The Gallery of Regrettable Food.

Well, there’s more to collection development than that, of course. “Collection Development” is half adding books to the collection–popular, useful, updated versions of what you’ve got already, filling a gap a staff member noticed or a patron’s request–and half withdrawing books when they’ve come to the end of their usefulness. It’s this withdrawal process that gets difficult at times, not least when explaining to aghast patrons that yes: most public libraries not only withdraw items but dispose of them1. Usually, books get withdrawn for one of three reasons: the information is outdated2, the item is in poor condition3, or non-use4.

What is The Gallery of Regrettable Food? It’s the book adaptation of the food component of James Lileks’ web site. According to the preface, the family moved to Fargo, North Dakota in the 1950s and shortly after their arrival, a Welcome Wagon Lady showed up on their doorstep with a bagful of the usual coupons and fliers from participating businesses in the area. His mother tucked them away; Lileks found them at the back of a closet in his parents’s home some forty years later and was horrified/inspired enough to not only investigate further into the world of now outdated cookbooks from the 1950s and 1960s but also set up a web site to edify others on the ghastly horrors visited upon diners of the time. As someone who weeded the nonfiction of a library established in 1960, I can attest to the fact that the cover art, illustrations and photographs used are real; I’ve weeded enough examples of the Better Homes and Gardens cooking series to recognize that. Lileks’ captions and descriptions are more than a little tongue in cheek, but even when he’s being most sardonic, he’s right. Those illustrations are creepy.

What to read next? Well, that depends on whether you want more of the time period or something to, er, cleanse your palate after a quite literally tasteless trek through a wasteland of cookery. If it’s the former, try Betty McDonald’s fourth memoir, Onions in the Stew or, should that not be enough, contact me offline and I’ll tell you where I used to work. I think they still have some of the books Lileks references. If you want something more refreshing about someone who came through that period determined to bring something a little tastier to us, start with Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France or the biography about her, Appetite for Life. I am, of course, open to suggestions from readers here!

1stop looking at me like I kicked your puppy. You’re confusing your local public library with the Library of Congress. Unless you’re willing to pay LOTS more taxes, we have to remove items from the collection or we’ll run out of space.
2usually, rapidly changing areas like health/nutrition or technology/sciences but most non-fiction will eventually fall into this category
3often simple use over time but occasionally the book loses a tangle with, say, water or a toddler with a lollipop
4items may have been trendy when we got them but aren’t any more, or sometimes have been superseded by newer holdings


3 thoughts on “when to withdraw cookbooks?

  1. Ruth Reichl’s three memoirs, “Tender at the Bone,” “Comfort Me With Apples,” and “Garlic and Sapphires” are all fun, with recipes, although I will admit that I spent the majority of “Comfort Me With Apples” wanting to shake Ruth until her teeth rattled — it’s definitely not the best of the three.

  2. Pingback: when to withdraw crafts books? | Josephine's Readers Advisory

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