TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, September 4, 2006

Law Books Make Good Mulch

Mulch_pile_1 Law_books_2I suspect we will see more and more stories like this in our Internet age:  BYU Law Books Finally Meet Their End: Composting

BYU’s Howard W. Hunter Law Library recently sent 3,000 excess law books to the BYU compost grinder. Online access to various duplicate law books allowed the library to reduce its holdings and free up more than 1,100 feet of shelf space. The library first contacted the Utah State law librarian and offered the volumes on a national listserve to anyone willing to pay the cost of shipping. One thousand volumes went to six law libraries in California,Illinois, Ohio, South Carolina and Utah. Recycling these hardcover books would require a costly and labor-intensive process, including stripping the paper from the cover and glue, so the seven tons of books were run through BYU’s tree shredder. Mixed with wood chips and grass clippings, the books will be composted at BYU’s compost facility in Mapleton and brought back to campus at the end of fall semester to be used in the flower, shrub and tree beds.

Perhaps Tom Bell can tell us whether the books will still "count" as "Library Resources" for U.S. News & World Report ranking purposes if the mulch is spread outside the law school!

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Why do I find it chilling that "seven tons of books were run through BYU’s tree shredder"? For starters, see Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.

Further, why should the BYU law librarians be so confident that there is no need to retain books that are duplicated by online resources? Are we to believe that if Al Qaeda manages to take down the infrastructure that supports the US Internet, having books around to compensate for the loss is unimportant? If North Korea or Iran figure out how to deliver a nuke to the US, hard copies of our law might not prove useful in the event that EMP disables Internet access?

I simply find it unbelievable that a major college like BYU would shred law books, when there are many conceivable reasons for keeping them. Send the law books off to Belarus, for heaven's sake. They could stand to learn something from our law.

Posted by: Jake | Sep 4, 2006 7:34:40 PM

Libraries simply don't have the resources to keep thousands of books any more. We'd all LIKE to keep thouse kilometres of shelves filled with volumes, but our budgets get slashed year after year, and something has to be compromised.

The use of online resources such as central library catalogues and resources means that books that are duplicated across a state, even a country, don't need to be kept. If someone needs that book, they can request it and have as copy delivered to them within days.

I'm a lot happier knowing that books are being recycled into something appropriate, then mouldering in a basement somewhere, waiting to become "someone else's problem".

I take it you did notice the bit where "one thousand volumes were sent to [other law libraries]"? The libraries tried every conceivable option to fill the needs of other resources before being left with unusable books.

Posted by: infoaddict | Sep 5, 2006 10:37:40 PM

Excess duplicates are an issue at many, many law firms. Think of all the old Martindale publications that clog up public libraries. The first donation seemed neat to the library and a great write-off for the firm. Every year, a flood of new volumes, no particular value to the library. I've seen used book stores swamped with them, and with various other old textbooks.

Law isn't the only example, but it is one of the more massive ones outside of out of date textbooks. An archive of MH on CD takes up a few inches of shelf space to cover twenty years. The same volumes take up more than a hundred feet of shelf space.

It used to be there was a booming business in old law books. Now the volumes can't be given away, especially as new books keep coming out and demanding space -- and when the old ones are duplicates. If the computer infrastructure goes down, they will still have the primary volumes, just fewer duplicates.

Mulch may well be the right solution. Better than mold.

Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis) | Sep 6, 2006 4:45:01 AM

Interesting that this piece is on a page sponsored by Thomson West. Don't worry Jake, they can always print more.

Posted by: stephen burnett | Sep 11, 2006 9:50:33 AM

Like Fahrenheit 451, BYU got rid of books and did it publicly. Unlike Ray Bradbury's classic sci fi novel, we are still keeping multiple copies *in print* of the very books we discarded.

The "duplicate law books" description in the press release above--unfortunately--emphasizes electronic duplication and not the BYU law library's *print* duplicates of the mulched books.

As a law librarian at BYU who worked on this project, I know first hand that all the discarded books mentioned here are duplicate (and mostly triplicate) copies of *books* we're still holding on to (except for one outdated set of legal forms). In fact, we still have first and second copies in print of most of the discarded eight sets of court decisions, two sets of legislative codes, and a court decision index (digest).

Our law library is open to the general public, attorneys, students and professors--including tax professors--, so for all these groups of users we have resources in print and online formats (and now in pulverized form for those walking on our front lawn).

Do you think anyone in Fahrenheit 451 memorized the Internal Revenue Code to keep it safe from a fireman?

Posted by: Galen Fletcher | Sep 12, 2006 10:15:04 AM