The life of a library book

April 9, 2024 in

by Kate Lasky
Originally published in the Grants Pass Daily Courier | September 2023

Every day, more than 10,000 library books are circulating throughout homes in Josephine County. The four buildings in Grants Pass, Cave Junction, Williams, and Wolf Creek house about 125,000 items collectively, including audio books and DVDs. If all the materials currently checked out were to suddenly return, there wouldn’t be enough space on the shelves to hold everything. A library is a living part of the community, and a library book has a life of its own, determined by its movement from home to home and reader to reader.

We used to be hoarders at the library. After our local libraries were defunded by the county in 2007 and citizens rallied to reopen and operate them on donations, we didn’t have enough money to buy the number of books in demand; so, we accepted thousands of donated items. This was great, or at least it appeared to be great. The donated items didn’t circulate well; they weren’t checked out frequently. While the shelves looked full, the overall collection suffered from stagnation.

When citizens passed a library district in 2017 and secured stable funding, which finally allowed for an ample book budget, there wasn’t enough room on the shelves to add more titles. We were forced to make some decisions resulting in the removal of about 30,000 items from the collections.

When a book isn’t checked out of a public library, it’s not doing its job. Not only does the circulation of a book determine its usefulness, but it also affects how space is managed. Public libraries aren’t archives, holding books for posterity. Academic libraries hold materials, and historical and research libraries, such as the Library of Congress, don’t typically allow items to be checked out at all. Our Josephine Community Library is primarily a popular collection library with materials for all ages. If an item stagnates for too long, the staff is forced to take a hard look at its value to the community. Hoarding isn’t healthy, even when it’s books.

Throughout 2019, citizens helped us rehome outdated and underutilized materials through “The Great Book Grab.” Staff and volunteers set up tables in the parking lots every three months for hundreds of folks to collect bags of free books for their home libraries – it was truly heartwarming to see books practically fly off the tables. We still hold ongoing mini book grabs at the Grants Pass branch, regularly displaying discarded materials for folks to rehome, breathing new life into items that lost their value on library shelves.

If you truly love a book and want the library to keep it on its shelves, then check it out. On the other hand, if you don’t like a book and you don’t check it out, chances are higher that it will end up on the free table for rehoming. The more times a library book is checked out, the more value is placed on that item. If it is damaged or goes missing, we use these statistics to determine if it should be replaced.

Not surprisingly, banned and challenged books often gain a lot of traction. During the past few years, American libraries reported more book challenges than any other time in history. What’s interesting is that banned books and controversial titles generate more checkouts at libraries. Managing the circulation of books in Josephine County is a balancing act — one that teeters on community engagement, space constraints, funding, and the literary landscape.

If you haven’t checked out a book from the public library lately, I encourage you to visit and find your next good read. Better yet, check out an old favorite and ensure it has a longer shelf life.  If you can’t find what you’re looking for, let us know — you may help us find something that everyone will enjoy.


Between the Pages is a monthly column written by Library Director Kate Lasky for the Grants Pass Daily Courier. Ms. Lasky has worked with Josephine Community Library since 2009. She holds a master’s in education and is currently pursuing her master’s in library science. To send comments or questions, email