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
    Wolff000, 4 Jan 2007 @ 12:49pm

    Wow Some Long Comments Up There

    Many people that put things more eloqently than I can have already said most of this but the great thing about the net is everybody gets a say, even a dumbass like me. Anyways libraries aren't just a warehouse of books their an oasis of intelligence in an increasingly dumb world. The public library isn't just a place to read but a place to explore, discover, and discuss. I have to admit that I don't get to the library a lot these days but I still go. Sometimes for a book or research some times for meeting of various kinds. Luckily my city just opened a new main library with great facilities of all types. Meeting rooms galore and tons of PCs for the net. They even found a place for the old classics nobody reads. (I know people do read them and so do I but you get the point.) Libraries simply need to adapt not be abolished. I think the warehouse idea with a good ditribution network is great but we should still have some real libraries for those that appreciate them.

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