Immortal Library Books: Will Never Die

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“What is the most circulated item at the Evanston Public Library that is still in circulation today?”

This question was posed to me recently. If such a question had been posed to librarians of the past, they probably should have located the document that had the most frequently stamped “due date slip” attached.

Today, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, our job is a little easier.

Due date card.

I asked one of the many technicians in the library to compile a list of numbers. Then, in the meantime, I started considering the different options. What would be the answer? From experience, I know that there are only a few classics that people continually check over and over again, and come back to long after their original publication date.

That said, we have an incredible team of clerks here at the library. Each has been specially trained to spot objects that appear to be the least damaged. One has to assume that the “most circulated item” should be in pretty dire condition, no matter how strong the original packaging was.

Would it then be a DVD? With their shorter payment terms, some DVDs stay in circulation well beyond the point at which you think they are capable of continuing to play.

But no. No, the answer was as obvious as the nose of my face. Because if you want to talk about the most popular items in any library, big or small, all you have to do is head straight to the kids’ room. And indeed, when I got the final list there, it was in slot #1 for everyone to see:

The Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV, by Stan and Jan Berenstain

The Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV by Stan and Jan Berenstain Credit: Betsy bird

With a massive 290 circulations (meaning it’s been viewed 290 times since it was added to the system in 1984), this book has all the hallmarks of a Never Gonna Die title.

First of all, this particular edition is what we call “Perma-Bound”. This means that at some point in its history, a librarian sent this book to be made into a solid hardcover.

Then it’s a show that a lot of people my age with young kids remember from their own youth. Nostalgia goes a long way when it comes to popular picture books. And then, of course, there’s the fact that it seems like a pretty straightforward storyline that can’t get too old. We still have television. Screen time is always a problem for children. What’s not to like?

Except, of course, that the book is savagely date.

The Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV by Stan and Jan Berenstain Credit: Betsy bird

Let’s start with the plot: Mama Bear laments the fact that the family has replaced their black and white ensemble with a set of dancing colors. A premise, I would point out, that was dated even when this book was originally published in the early 1980s.

When mom cuts the whole family off television, she encourages them to read the newspapers for news now. Later, they go to the mall and Brother Bear buys himself a Rubik’s Cube. I’m not joking about this.

All told, these days the book is probably usually borrowed along with a large stack of other Berenstain

Bear books. Still, it’s nice to see titles circulating as much as this. Because despite how much I don’t care about the premise of this book, when it comes to looking at real physical books, the screens just can’t compare.

Betsy Bird is the Collections Development Manager at the Evanston Public Library.

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