Should Libraries Ditch The Classics?

from the rethinking-the-library dept

J. Austin writes in to point us to an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, which talks about how public libraries are trying to cope with the times. Apparently, faced with "the long tail" problem of limited shelf space, libraries have started removing books that don't get checked out. Unfortunately for lovers of literature classics, this appears to include books like those by Charlotte Bronte, William Faulkner, Thomas Hardy, Marcel Proust and Ernest Hemingway. Instead, they're being replaced by more popular books like those by John Grisham, which will never be mistaken for fine literature. The commentary then looks at what the purpose of the library is, especially in an age where so many books are available so cheaply from online sources. I know that, personally, when I've needed a particularly book, it's often easier to just find a used copy online. The question is whether or not libraries should look at themselves as basically an alternative to bookstores, or if they should be something entirely different. The suggestion is that librarians shouldn't just be store clerks handing out the latest bestseller to people who don't want to buy the book, but "teachers, advisers and guardians of an intellectual inheritance." That sounds great, in theory, but if no one is coming to the library for that purpose, it's hard to see how that helps much. What the article doesn't note is that these same forces that have made books cheaper and more available to online purchasers also applies to libraries as well. You can go into most libraries these days, and if they don't have a specific book, they can order it from another library. It would really be great if libraries could set themselves up as guardians of an intellectual inheritance, but if no one cares about that inheritance, it's difficult to see how that helps very much.

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  1. icon
    OffBeatMammal (profile), 4 Jan 2007 @ 9:16am

    Is digitisation the answer?

    Even if we don't get to a technological answer with ePaper and eInk for a while yet does this validate the effort that Google and others are putting into digitising these works? If the libraries need to take the books out of the front-line can they at least consider warehousing and loaning via post (Netflix) consolidating into one uber-library, and/or make the books available as (timed, self destructing) digital downloads (supporting many formats.... don't make me buy an eReader for one book).
    Personally I love the feel of a paper book and the physical experience of reading it, fliping back and forth and hunting for an item in a reference book and I can't see a digital solution replicating that experience... but if it's a choice between never being able to read that book or the digital experience... I'll go digital over destruction any day

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