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
    misanthropic humanist, 4 Jan 2007 @ 1:20pm

    divisions and identity

    Hey Overcast,

    I'm feeling a lot of passion in your words, but I'm a bit confused. I hope my defensive quip didn't piss you off because I was only reacting to what seemed to be you suggesting I was anti-immigrant. Obviously I'm not, within sensible reason, and I see neither are you. As an American and a Englishman neither of us could really hold that view, America is built by immigrants and so is England. Yes, funny thing about England - we're all imigrants. We're one of the most invaded nations in history! Even our Queen is a German :)

    Yes, doublespeak and political correctness are the enemy. Those that hide behind niceities and will not speak their minds are cowards. And sometimes the truth is unpleasant but it must be spoken. Once it is spoken we usually find we have more in common than against each other.

    Economics in the UK are not very good right now. We have a lot of Polish, Hungarian, Czech and Slovaks coming now. They are nice people. But does it hurt me that my brothers can't get work because they take the jobs - I would lie to say it doesn't, but I don't hate the immigrants for that. Thats the real politik of globalisation for what it's worth. Ultimately it means less wars and better understanding if we take an optimistic view.

    May I address your thoughts about religion. This may seem oblique, but stay with me please. Have you heard the phrase "divide and conquer"? There are an infinite number of partitions on mankind and each is exploited by those that seek power. Emphasising our differences to create the "other" is the oldest trick in the book. I despise Humanists and Athiests who attack other religions and call them stupid just as much as any other bigots. It is very hard for a freethinking rationalist to be comfortable with any dogma and I align myself with no organisation. Religion is not the enemy per se, it is those who hijack it for their power trips, as you say, the child molesting Catholics, the "Holier than thou" Protestants, the murderous Zionists and the mad Mullahs. But they are a small disruptive minority. Most of the Muslims, Jews and Christians I know are peaceful people with no axe to grind. But they are painted as such by those who wish to divide us for the profits of war. Those who truly seek God do it alone.

    Of course my moniker "misanthropic humanist is a joke" an oxymoron. I rather like people on the whole, especially the ones who are different, honest and have the courage to speak their mind.

    I disagree with you on one point. Palestine and Mexico cannot be compared. But I do not want to go down that road today.


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