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. identicon
    Tyshaun, 4 Jan 2007 @ 11:22am

    The library culture...

    I don't think anyone can debate that modern technology and the internet can easily take over as the repository of literature and other items previously held in libraries. However, growing up my local libary served a variety of other purposes (primarily because it serviced a very poor population). The library did things like:

    1. Gave access to computers, copy machines, and other "office" type things
    2. Acted as a community hub for distribution of local information
    3. Acted as a meeting center for groups, especially literacy tutoring and child reading initiatives
    4. Acted as an after school study hall for kids

    In short, it was more than just a place where people came to get books. Even with the increased use of the internet, the local library is still how a good number of people in my town access the internet as it's the only place non-school age people can get cheap (free) web access. Although the cost of "getting online" is becoming less and less, the cost is still out of reach for a lot many people (or isn't a priority when compared to other items). Where I live the median income is $32,000 (the national average is $44,000) and I don't see a lot of people having the means to afford a computer and an internet connection.

    So yeah, we can get rid of libraries, but there are still places where libraries are the primary link to information and culture that is easily accessible by everyone. Besides, I still like to go the library every now and again to sit back, read a book, and escape my phone(s), e-mail, and other such modern convienences.

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