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Bewilderment at dumpster full of kid's books outside Minneapolis' Bryn Mawr school

A Facebook post showing the book-filled bin sparked a community-led retrieval effort.
Bryn Mawr books - 7 pm Wednesday

When Natalie Taylor peered into the dumpster, she could only see one thing: Books.

Where the Wild Things Are, Shel Silverstein works, educational books about nature and the outdoors. Piled high, with too many to count, in the garbage outside Bryn Mawr Elementary School in Minneapolis around 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Taylor, who had been out on a walk with her husband, toddler and a friend when they made the discovery, told Bring Me The News it just didn't sit right with her.

“I think there’s a lot of communities that could probably benefit from … these books and these resources," she said, noting that while a few were old and politically incorrect, most were in very good shape and still useful.

Later that night, she posted a photo PSA of the filled dumpster to a Facebook group, telling people to come get the perfectly good books. For themselves, for little free libraries, for organizations or nonprofits that could use them — really anything to ensure they aren't just trashed.

"I hope these can end up somewhere else besides the landfill!" she wrote.

Her call to action resonated.

All day Thursday, people stopped by with step ladders and bags to pick out and pack away the tossed-aside books. Some even coordinated to gather items for Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People, a nonprofit that distributes 300-400 children's books every week.

The dumpster Thursday morning.

The dumpster Thursday morning.

By about 4:30 p.m. — despite more books apparently being added to the trash pile overnight, Taylor said — the dumpster was nearly emptied. The bottom of the bin, unreachable Wednesday, could be seen.

"This was unfortunate and we apologize for people thinking we don't care about books," said Julie Schultz Brown, executive director of marketing and communications for Minneapolis Public Schools. "We know our kids deserve the best quality books ... and these books did not meet the guidelines for highest-quality books for our students."

So what exactly happened?

According to Brown, Bryn Mawr's library collection was among the oldest in the district, with the average title there dating back to 1998. So, as schools will do, Bryn Mawr reviewed its collection, removing books that did not meet guidelines, whether it was due to physical wear and tear, concerns about mold and dust, or the inclusion of content that isn't culturally or historically accurate.

Normally, schools in the district will donate them to nonprofits. But these Bryn Mawr books were not up to the donation standards of one regular partner, Books for Africa, she said, and many other places aren't accepting donations of used items because of COVID-19.

"The school did its best to find a home for the books," Brown said.

Taylor's post and photo, however, clearly bothered people. She said she was surprised to see “how outraged people were" at the sight, and that "generally people feel like something is wrong.”

While some of the binned books did appear problematic, Taylor said, most seemed to be in decent to good shape.

“I didn’t find any that were completely decimated," she said.

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The district, in a written statement, outlined a few things it "learned about our books today."

"Our community cares deeply about books and reading—which is great to see!" the statement said, adding they "need to do a better job of educating our community on why books need to be reviewed, removed, recycled and replaced, as well as the investments we’re making in our libraries."

"We need to establish a better process for offering public access to partially damaged books or books that don’t meet our standards rather than just removing and recycling them," the statement continued.

Taylor, whose post launched a community effort to reclaim the books, said she was "relieved and happy" to see the dumpster emptying.

"It makes me happy to see the internet doing what it does for good and to see so many community members step up," she said.

The dumpster Thursday afternoon.

The dumpster Thursday afternoon.

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