I came across an interesting article this week from Melville House about a man who’d finally been tracked down for dumping hundreds of books along a Colorado highway over a period of time. A State Trooper caught him in the act of literally throwing books out the window as he drove. Apparently, the litterbug had acquired thousands of titles from what a bookstore (possibly a mystery bookshop) that closed eight years earlier. His intent was to sell them all on Amazon, however, Amazon made it impossible for him to compete. The culprit stated that his arthritis and busy schedule prevented him lifting them into dumpsters or driving all the way to the landfill. He also stated that he tried to donate the books, but they weren’t wanted. Needless to say, he received a fine for littering, but here’s another twist in this sad, sordid little tale. Someone else is also dumping books along the highway, although this individual hasn’t yet been caught.
As the article suggests, the litterbug’s crime actually addresses a larger issue. First, the saturation of print books has made secondhand bookstores, and possibly other charities, less willing to accept donated books. In other words, there’s far too many print copies floating around and not nearly enough takers. This begs the question, are publishers’ print runs still too large? Sure, surveys indicate that the majority of readers still buy print books, but what happens when they’re done with them?
I know many people who love print books, but at my 50+ year of age, I also know plenty of folks who are downsizing their homes and giving away most of their collections. Truthfully, I honestly don’t know anyone who is actively building a book collection, and that’s the problem. Are those in their mid-twenties to mid-forties collecting books to the degree that we were their age?
As the article points out, there were places the litterbug could have taken the books if he really tried. What about thrift stores? Hospitals? Seniors' centers? Even a university? The university where I’m employed has a huge book sale every fall to raise money for the United Way. They’ve already started asking for donations and could have used those books. Here in BC, we also have book donation bins in our community. In fact, two of them are only five minutes from my house. I’m not exactly sure what is done with the books after I drop them in the bin, but I’m hoping those bins will be around for a while because we too will be downsizing in three to five years. If those bins should ever disappear, though, I can assure you that I won’t be throwing books out of my car window. Sheesh.