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 @ 1:06pm

    Re: Does everyone have money for books? No

    A lot of posts here about just going out and buying a used copy instead of using the library, or just making everything available digitally.

    Doesn't one need some money and/or a computer (or book reader) to utilize this? I thought libraries were there as a public service, making books available for people who do not have the resources to access them in another way, such as buying them.

    If you don't have the cash, it's not a simple matter of just finding a used copy online because it's "easier" than dealing with the library. It's not easier, it's impossible.

    Libraries should not be accommodating the affluent and lazy, but those without the means to access books and other resources available (such as learning computer games for kids and access to computers to use them).


    Great point, well said.

    After reading so many of the comments I am reminded that we are on a tech blog. Although the "price-to-play" in the tech game is getting cheaper, there is still a barrier for those less afluent. I think that sometimes techDirt readers (and commenters) forget that technology is out of reach for a large part of the population because of financial issues and lack of knowledge of its uses.

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