We used to call something "a drug on the market" when an item was so common that there were no takers for it. The expression implies that the item induces inertia in buyers, as some drugs do. I thought of this phrase yesterday as I was leaving the Rosenthal Library at Queens College. For over a decade Rosenthal has been the beneficiary of my efforts to reduce the large number of books I own. Every few months, I bring the library 30-40 books, whatever I can carry, like a pack mule; the librarians smile and chat me up, and some weeks later I receive a thank-you letter that I can use as proof of a charitable donation for my tax deductions.
Yesterday, however, I found Rosenthal unreceptive. The librarian explained to me that budget cuts (courtesy of Messirs Bloomberg & Cuomo) had reduced its staff and led to a cutback in operations so that the library no longer accepts book donations, nor does it hold its seasonal book sales, at which many of my old books no doubt found new owners. The acquisitions librarian, however, told me that he would make an exception for my used poetry books, because the library has no budget to buy new poetry books. As a reviewer, I often receive review copies of such books, so I'll continue to unload them at Rosenthal. My other old books are unwelcome.
Coincidentally, the neighborhood used-book store is also refusing book contributions. The store will still deal for signed first editions and other rareties in good condition, but it will no longer take used books for its $1 tables. Too many old folks are cleaning out their libraries and lugging faded tattered shopping bags full of faded tattered books to used-book stores and libraries, where the demand has diminished sharply. Every time you see people on their smart phones, tablets, or e-readers, you understand where book buyers have gone. The wonderful old books from Modern Library and Penguin that contributed so much to the education of generations of readers will fade away, like their beneficiaries, and few such books will be retrievable in digital form.
As a reader and a writer, and as a library donor, I am disheartened, while as an observer of the passing scene, I am unsurprised.
Oh, yes...if you'd like a grab bag of old books, please let me know.