You may like what you find

Many years ago I worked in an office that was headquartered in a small town in rural Kansas. The town had been shrinking in size over the years, and when I knew it, the population was around 10,000 people. I learned that small towns have all the same drama as big cities, with just the same proportion of friendly and unfriendly people, just the same problems, and just the same pride.

Another thing the town had was a Carnegie Library. It was a jewel of an old building on the edge of the city park, and on my lunch hours I often found my feet leading me to this library. As you might imagine, the collection there was not nearly as extensive as the multi-branch library I was accustomed to in suburbia. I would go in there intending to check out a particular book only to find they didn’t have it in their stacks, or the one copy they had was checked out.

That compelled me to prowl the shelves, as much to pass my lunch hour as to search for a substitute. Invariably, I would find some other book that interested me, and I would be delighted with my discovery, just as pleased with it as I would have been if I’d found the book I was originally after.

I came to understand that with a small-town library, though you may not find what you’d like, you’ll often like what you find.

That lesson has stayed with me. Now, when I have a nice copy of a book I have finished, one that I don’t intend to read again, I set it on a special shelf behind my desk. When I’ve accumulated a dozen or so, I put them in a box and take them to the library in a small town in rural Missouri. This town has a population of under 1,000, so I know that it doesn’t have the resources to build a big collection. I drop my box at the circulation desk, and I’m always thanked sincerely, and then I skedaddle, not even giving my name.

In about a month, I visit the library’s online catalog and look up the titles of the books I donated. (If I’m really on the ball, I’ve looked for these titles before I donate them to confirm they’re not already in the collection.) I’m always tickled to find that most of the books have been put on the shelves for others in the community to enjoy.

I asked once about book donations, and the librarian said they do one of three things with them. The good ones that they don’t already have in their collection get a permanent berth on their shelves. The remainder they add to their annual book-sale fundraiser. And those they don’t sell they donate to the used book store down the street.

Everyone wins in that situation, including me. For a person who loves books, it’s good to know the ones I don’t keep have so many good lives after they’re gone from me.

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