Thousands of books discarded in Detroit schools, libraries

The library at Detroit Urban Lutheran was neatly organized. In one section, hundreds of children’s books in pristine condition were shelved alphabetically by author’s name. Another section was dedicated to hard-cover novels and classics like “Little Women,” “Grapes of Wrath” and “Great Expectations.” History books, atlases and encyclopedias were stacked waist-high in a corner.

When the private school on the west side closed a few years ago, no one bothered to salvage the books, many of which are now burned and damaged.

Leaving behind entire libraries of books is nothing new in Detroit, which has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the U.S.
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Vacate a building. Leave everything behind. That’s the Detroit way.

Abandoned schools, hospitals and nursing homes also contain thousands of records with social security numbers and other sensitive information, we reported in June.

The most notorious abuse of books in Detroit involved the Roosevelt Warehouse, aka the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository, in the shadow of Michigan Central Station. A 1987 fire destroyed millions of dollars worth of school supplies, and the district left the building open to the elements.

Below are photos of books left behind in vacant buildings, some of which have been demolished. To discourage vandalism and scrapping, the school and libraries will remain anonymous.

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.