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Should school libraries toss old books? Viral photo of a Chicago dumpster prompts heated debate on social media

A Facebook photo of a Chicago high school dumpster full of cast-aside books has ignited a heated conversation on social media about the role of libraries and whether public schools are good stewards of their resources. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, a Reddit thread on the topic had reached over 1,000 replies.

The picture — which a neighbor first posted in a Facebook parents group — showed books like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” in a dumpster outside of Senn High School on Chicago’s North Side. While the initial reaction on Facebook was to denounce the school for tossing classical literature, many Reddit commenters, including teachers and librarians, sympathized with schools’ need to free up space for new materials. 

“As a school librarian, these types of post[s] haunt me but not for the reason most people think,” one person wrote. “Every year, I weed the library collections removing old, outdated, torn and hardly used books (i.e. books that have not been checked out in five or more years) …I would have teachers talk negatively in the hallways questioning the ‘need to fund the library if she just throws them away.’ I even had a janitor who did exactly this, they took pictures and posted on Facebook. It is a nightmare.”

Other commenters discussed Chicago Public Schools’ shortage of librarians and insufficient funding for school materials.

A spokesman from Chicago Public Schools said Senn is undergoing renovations to its library, and as a part of that process, the school is weeding out books that were surplus or outdated. The district is in the process of “conducting an evaluation of the situation with the dumpster.”

Educators remarked books can contain false information and that even when librarians try to donate books, some places don’t want them. 

One teacher commenter said the outrage over the photo was misplaced: “Wouldn’t it be great if people got outraged at things that would actually help schools, students, and teachers rather than outrage over some cheap mass paperbacks, right?”