When David Boyd tossed trash from his lunch into a dumpster behind Hereford Library on Tuesday he found what he deemed a treasure: Dozens of children's books—171 to be exact— at the bottom of the bin.
He was both surprised and indignant. Why had these been thrown out, wondered Boyd, a White Hall resident and former Towson University professor. There are kids who could use them.
So he gathered up the stacks, many of them holiday-related books with titles like "Apple Pie Fourth of July," "April Fool Watch Out at School," and "Queen of Halloween," as well as general fiction and nonfiction books, and loaded them into his car.
"What an absolute waste of taxpayer money," said Boyd, co-founder of Property Taxpayers United in 1990 that fought excessive increases in property tax assessments. "There is nothing wrong with these books and they shouldn't have been thrown out."
Boyd returned to his firebrand style as Taxpayers United leader and starting making calls – to television stations, the North County News and Baltimore County officials.
Baltimore County library spokesman Bob Hughes was soon fielding calls about the recovered books. He explained that county librarians, including Hereford's librarian, Sarah Smith, regularly take older books off their shelves to make room for new titles.
If the withdrawn books are in good condition, said Hughes, they are sent to an online used book company, Better World Books, based in Indiana. Every week, a library delivery truck picks up the books from each branch and takes them to a Better World Books' site in Edgewood.
Prior, the library system sold withdrawn books at the branches. But three years ago, to free up shelf space and staff members who spent a lot of time sorting, pricing and selling used books, the library system began sending the books to Better World Books. The company sells the county library books online, ships to customers for free, and shares the books' proceeds with the county system.
Baltimore County Public Library Director Jim Fish said Friday he could not disclose what percentage of proceeds are returned to the system, but did say the library expects to receive $200,000 from Better World Books in fiscal 2012.
Hughes said library staffers decide if a book is in suitable condition to be sold by Better World Books.
"It is our intention to send any books that don't have age or wear and tear to Better World Books," Hughes said Tuesday. "If the books found in the dumpster were in good shape, this appears to be a one-time mistake at Hereford."
Boyd said all but a couple of the books found in the trash bin were in good shape.
Jamie Watson of the library's Collection Development office called Boyd the next day and offered to pick up the books. But by that time, Boyd had made arrangements for his wife, Cathy, who teaches at Essex Elementary School, to hopefully distribute the books there.
"Unfortunately, this is a missed learning opportunity for us to have seen the books and see what condition they're in," Fish said Wednesday. "We have responsible staff and detailed guidelines on what Better World Books will take, but it's a value judgment," he said. "We'll use this situation to make sure we double-check our withdrawals. We want to consistently do the right thing."
Fish said the Hereford branch, located at 16490 York Road, which opened in 1988, is different than the other 17 county libraries because it is the only one in a rented space – it occupies the first floor of an office building -- with no recycling bin outside the building. All other branches have both trash and recycling bins, so books not suitable for Better World Books are not thrown away, but end up in Baltimore County's recycling stream.
Fish said on Thursday he will look into the possibility of having a recycling container placed outside the Hereford branch. Building owner Carl Yarema said Friday he has no problem with having a recycle bin placed on the property.
Boyd would like to see all books end up where they can be used best: "in a child's hands," he said. Even books that don't qualify for Better World Books should be made available to local schools or families.
"I don't think it would take a lot to have a table or a box at Hereford that says 'Free Books.' With the economy the way it is, people would grab them."