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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
    A librarian, 4 Jan 2007 @ 11:25am

    The good news...

    The good news for all the folks commenting on this thread is that real, dedicated, technologically savvy, professional, non-whacko, educated librarians who understand and take into consideration a multitude of social and environmental factors, face the problems raised by both the article and throughout this discussion, every single day they come to work.

    "Libraries," as we have all come to know them throughout our lifetimes, are changing. Librarians and the community groups (in the states, often called "Friends of the Library") who help manage and maintain them, are not operating in a bubble. Even in the public sector, savvy librarians have been using, programming and living with computers as long as most computer scientists, bringing new tools to users in the forum of a "university of the people" for many, many years, and will continue to do so whether society seems to value the work they do or not.

    Fortune 500, Academia, government, Second Life, the blogosphere, community groups, local schools, after school programs, local theater... librarians can be found in all of these places and wherever they are, they are thinking and planning for the future of information access and constantly straddling the line between print archive and online resource.

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