American Heritage

National GeographicWhat do we have here? I’ll tell you what: approximately 70 years of bound American Heritage magazines. Each book is one year of issues. The last 20-ish years were individual monthly issues.

These have been living in the reference collection at my library, gathering dust since who knows when. I’ve worked there for 12 years and they were already dusty then.

I finally bit the bullet (because pandemic library closure = time for collection projects like this) and weeded the whole collection. I didn’t really need the space for anything else, but the layer of dust confirmed that they hadn’t been touched by human hands in a looooong time.

It felt exhilarating! It felt freeing! It felt…wrong. What should I do with them? Surely some library, somewhere, could use them – even if just filling in missing issues in their own archive of American Heritage magazines. It’s a quality publication. It has value. It should be preserved!

Just not at my public library in our general interest/popular materials collection.

Rather than going straight to the recycle bin with it, I poked around to see what kind of holdings were listed in WorldCat. I thought maybe if I could identify a big missing chunk somewhere, I’d offer it up to fill in their collection. I also thought it would give me an idea of what libraries still have collections like this.

If I’ve learned one thing from 12 years with awful library books (!!) it’s that holdings at a library does not equal need. Lots of libraries have lots of stuff on their shelves that they don’t even want. They’re just too understaffed/sentimental/lazy to actually get rid of stuff. So, just because a library is listed in WorldCat as owning a complete set of American Heritage magazines does not mean it’s a good choice for their collection, or that they have any intent of keeping it, or that they even know they have it. 

I didn’t find any obvious places to send it.

Just for my own peace of mind, I also checked Better World Books to see if they’d take any of it. I didn’t expect them to. And they didn’t.

I asked the local historical archive – again, just to be sure they couldn’t use it – and they were not interested.

I emailed a nearby archive collection that did not list holdings of this collection, but which collects all kinds of Americana. I got no response.

So, I put the individual issues in the recycle bin. The bound issues got boxed up for city pickup. (THANK YOU to our city for helping us discard hardcovers appropriately!)

The moral of the story is that Mary and I love a clean collection. We love to weed. We also appreciate complete collections like this that were curated over decades and are not straight-to-the-bin items. Everything deserves due diligence. Don’t weed too casually, but be realistic about what’s truly useful in your library. Also, be realistic about where it ultimately belongs. If that’s the recycle bin, so be it. At least you tried.



  1. I get at least one phone call a week about taking on a complete collection of Architectural Digest. Sadly nobody wants them, and everybody who does has them. Suggesting you recycle them gets groans on the phone, so I try to instruct people to put them on the curb and post them on craigslist to see if anyone will come and take them. Otherwise recycling is the only option. When my library has unwanted periodicals that we can’t give to anybody else, sometimes people will take them for making collages at elementary schools. We’ve had some success with that.

  2. I don’t know what American Heritage magazine is (I thought you meant the dictionaries at first), but have you considered sending that sort of thing to (run by They seem to archive any written works and you can mail them stuff.


      It’s there. They would probably be the 500th or 5,000th such library to make the offer.

      One of the MASSIVE problems being dealt with here is that popular interest in a periodical tends to VANISH overnight when it ceases publication, as AH did several years ago. Some such magazines became little more than brand names that happened to publish a magazine–see Time-Life, AH, Playboy, and more. It doesn’t matter if it’s American Heritage, Bride, Mad Magazine, Q, Maxim, or Playboy–once the magazine stops printing, its back issue price drops drastically, often down to shredding/pulp.

    2. “I don’t know what American Heritage magazine is (I thought you meant the dictionaries at first)”

      And right there is the flip side of “we have to keep it!!!!” [eye roll]

  3. I once had a public library director tell me that history never gets dated, so I didn’t need to weed that section. However, as a librarian and historian, I tend to really scrutinize any history publications with some age when weeding a general collection (the rules change if working with a local history collection). I am looking for bias, dated or offensive terminology, lack of inclusivity, and dated perspectives. American Heritage is a quality publication, but I suspect the volumes you recycled were problematic, especially given that this publication stated in 1948. So BRAVO!!! On a personal note, my grandmother collected these instead of National Geographic. We had a hard time finding a home for them when she died more than 20 years ago.

  4. We have been absolutely burdened with unwanted donations during the pandemic. We have signs on the door to not leave bags of books – yet everyday there will be 2-3 bags dumped on us.

    1. I can trump this.

      The Oakland (Ca.) Public Library had a library of HUNDREDS of railroad history books, from the most general to the excruciatingly detailed and esoteric, many extremely rare and worth hundreds of dollars each, outside its back door on a Sunday morning.
      Even after some people just randomly rifled through the piles, it took some unknown time before some book lovers scooped up the pile between two vehicles. One pile was dumped again at a regional railroad museum, who put most of it up for sale as duplicates; nearly a year later the other guy and I are STILL dealing with which railroad archives get which books, and still a good half or more should get consigned to online sales!

      1. Oh, that is a difficult one! I am usually one for ruthlessly trashing old stuff, but there are so many fans of old railroad stuff that I doubt I could do it with these.

        1. As a long-time volunteer museum archivist, I can tell you, it’s not that easy, either.

          Older rail historians and buffs are passing on, and the younger railfans have either their generation’s typical historical awareness on par with that of mayflies, or do EVERYTHING on a “smartphone.”

          The Oakland stack had numerous books where the verified press runs were sometimes 2,000 or less nationally. A few were even numbered “limited editions.” Yet some of these books go begging on the market.

          I managed last month to snatch up a mint copy of a 1993 regional railroad history book, that currently has a “street value” online of $300-400, for ONE MEASLY DOLLAR at a local thrift store–in the region covered by the book, no less. (And I was literally thirty seconds ahead of a bulk buyer scanning barcodes and LOC numbers with his smartphone, to boot!) I’m trying to arrange a donation of this lucky find (I already have one) to a local public library, but we’re debating how long such a book would remain in circulation before it was conveniently “lost”……….. after a similar local rail history book of an esoteric local rail line was “lost” twice by users of the county’s public library in another state. (I replaced both copies from estate collections I helped broker, with the provision that the last copy be made non-circulating.)

  5. Sigh, this does make me sad, but a “golden haze of sentimental fancy” can’t be the only standard. I’m reminded of a character in an Arthur Haley novel who was given a sinecure out of sentiment and everyone made to leave them alone. He was one of the bad guys for what it turned him into.

    1. “a ‘golden haze of sentimental fancy’ can’t be the only standard”

      Yet that’s THE driving standard behind virtually every “protest” of book/periodical weeding…………

      1. Then donate an extra xxx USD/year beyond your tax levy share and we will keep it, otherwise buy it from the book sale, or check it out and read it so everyone knows it actually has a readership. (I’m apostrophizing the hypothetical protester not addressing you.)

  6. I had the same sort of experience with our library’s print collection of “Something About the Author.” We had a complete set, no missing volumes, and they were sitting on the shelf gathering dust. Almost no usage in many years. When I decided to weed them, I tried to give them a new home – I offered them to other libraries, schools, school district offices, the two local universities – but there were no takers, so they got recycled.

    We do have access to the online version through our state library, though, so the resource is still available if ever needed…

  7. You didn’t mention if you tried posting this collection on Freecycle or some other site where people offer (and seek) all manner of things from the mundane and useful (pots and pans, dorm fridges, baby clothes) to the bizarre (bowling trophies from 1947-1964, collection of assorted porcelain doll’s limbs, complete collection of American Heritage ;^). Maybe you would have found an artist or a teacher who would have wanted them to cut up for projects or just someone who wanted to line their parakeet’s cage with something educational!

    1. In many areas such as big cities, there used to be a listing for a long run of NatGeo or AmHeritage EVERY WEEK OR TWO. It’s gone down since people have largely trashed their parents’ or grandparents’ hordes.

  8. The problem is that this is history and with the current drive to “expunge” the history we do not like, protecting the past is more important than ever.
    That said, you don’t have the space to store everything. This is a prime example of what should be kept, but digitized.

  9. Actually, each hardbound copy shown in the photo is ONE issue. It was a quarterly magazine that came out in hardcover. No advertising. I was first aware of it in 1961 when my dad subscribed (Civil War centennial). He kept it up for a couple of years. I was fascinated by the printing technology — the color plates were on glossy paper but not-color articles were printed on rough, uncoated paper. The covers usually featured portraits of famous Americans and when I’ve seen those paintings in galleries or in other books I’ve instantly thought about the AH volumes. The articles were authoritative, for the time (=white men, because those were the academic historians then). I have “A Sense of History: The Best Writing from the Pages of American Heritage” — a 1985 anthology. It’s blind-stamped on the back cover so it was a Book-of-the-Month Club offering. . . . . In the 1970’s they had a popularized spinoff called Americana. My libraries subscribed to them. Good stuff in both.

    1. Oh, you’re right! Each bound volume is one issue. That explains why there were a billionty of them. 😉

      1. Actually, it WASN’T quarterly; it came out bimonthly, six times a year.

        And, regrettably, the apparent fact that you failed to recognize or pay enough attention to this important detail that the hardcovers were single issues could be used by the “anti-weeders” as “evidence” of your “sloppiness,” “ignorance,” or “carelessness” in discarding these volumes.

        You can just point them here:

        1. I’m sure I saw it at the time; I wrote this up about three months after they were weeded, so I couldn’t remember exactly. I’m a lazy writer for not looking it up; not a lazy weeder.

  10. I guess this answers the question “what shall I do with my parents’ collection of American Heritage magazines?” — I’m cleaning out their house…

  11. Where I live, there is NO paper recycling. None. All paper goes in the landfill with the other trash. Cardboard boxes and be broken down and there’s a recycler that buys those, but that’s it as far as recycling goes.

    So we can’t recycle unwanted library materials (that BWB has rejected), can’t find anyone to give them to, including “artists,” teachers “for kids to cut up!”, animal lovers to line their birdcages with…. No. Body. Wants. It. It’s TRASH. Believe you me, we’ve tried. Everywhere and everyone. For YEARS.

    Perhaps there are people in the world who want this trash, but the library staff does not have the time or resources to find these people. My job is to help patrons find material they can and will use, not to go into the used book or trash removal business.

      1. Not at all.

        The fact is that so much “recycling” has glutted the market that places that formerly paid for collected recycling paper are CHARGING to take it off cities’/counties’ hands. Combine that with the fact that some rural counties in some states are larger in size than entire STATES, or even multiple entire states (check out Coconino County, Arizona, for starts), and this syndrome easily occurs. It can cost far MORE to truck trailer loads of bulk paper to someone willing to let you dump them than it costs to landfill them.

        The other distinct possibility is using the paper as fuel for power-generating incinerators, like some cities used to and a few still do. Honestly, if it weren’t for incinerators burning off a lot of the major cities’ bulk trash, the “recycling” problem would be even more critical.

        In addition, I used to know a few folks with wood-burning stoves for heat that would go to “book banks,” library donations, and Goodwills/thrift shops and beg them to load up their trucks with what they all knew were books that are now worth existing only for BTU value–old World Almanacs, legislative publications, old Guinness Book of World Records, Windows 3.1 and Win95 manuals and how-to books, outdated dictionaries or best-sellers, books the dog had piddled on, etc. And, yes, old American Heritage issues (NatGeos don’t burn well). I recall one guy saying that with a few strategically planned and arranged-in-advance book collections from such places, he cut his firewood need one year in half, and “I never, NEVER saw any book even remotely of any monetary value.”

        One bookseller of my distant acquaintance in northern Pennsylvania had a chute running to his woodburning furnace in the basement, and told me “I was throwing a LOT of Harlequin romances down there before I figured out some people were crazy enough to COLLECT them!”

          1. The lead (actually an alloy of lead, tin, and other metals for low melting point and firmness) in type metal DID NOT pass through to the printing process and paper, if that’s what you fret about.

            I have actually used Linotype machines, participated in the melting of spent type into ingots for reuse, and even reclaimed most of one paper’s supply for further casting work. I ain’t dead yet………….

        1. Yes, I thought “backward” was a bit of a harsh insult. My community is not backward, but it is too small, rural and isolated to support a paper recycling business – an paper recycling is a business like any other that cannot operate for free.

  12. I have scrutinized our magazine collection from time to time. The challenge is that most magazine publications are so full of fluff – inane articles about organizing or shopping or boring articles about celebs. No depth or interest. I suppose there is a place for one or two periodicals like that but not more than that. They are not circulating. We have the handful of diehard periodical readers but circulation is way down because the internet has pretty well taken over. We’ve dropped long subscribed to National Geographic, Business Week, Outdoor, Entrepreneur and others. A few others are on the chopping block. I have searched high and low for magazines with depth and interest that are readable. We recently picked up Make, Archaeology and National Geographic History (so much better than regular National Geographic) and those HAVE been circulating. An American History periodical may also gain some traction.

  13. Funny that you happened to mention American Heritage. I was just looking at my library’s set a couple of days ago. No one wants them, but there they sit, taking up valuable shelf space. And everyone is so overworked no one has time to think about dealing with them.

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