The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 1, January 7, 2007, Article 14


Nothing numismatic here, either, bibliophiles are certain to have an
opinion - what are libraries for, anyway?  Public libraries have always
weeded out older and less popular books to make room for new titles,
but the trend is accelerating.  A January 2, 2007 article in The
Washington Post highlights changes at a Virginia library system that
call into question the true purpose and mission of public libraries.

"Like Borders and Barnes & Noble, Fairfax is responding aggressively
to market preferences, calculating the system's return on its investment
by each foot of space on the library shelves -- and figuring out which
products will generate the biggest buzz. So books that people actually
want are easy to find, but many books that no one is reading are gone
-- even if they are classics.

"We're being very ruthless," said Sam Clay, director of the 21-branch
system since 1982. "A book is not forever. If you have 40 feet of shelf
space taken up by books on tulips and you find that only one is checked
out, that's a cost."

"That is the new reality for the Fairfax system and the future for other
libraries. As books on tape, DVDs, computers and other electronic
equipment crowd into branches, there is less room for plain old books."

"... in the effort to stay relevant in an age in which reference
materials and novels can be found on the Internet and Oprah's Book
Club helps set standards of popularity, libraries are not the
cultural repositories they once were.

[Other librarians take a more traditional view, as noted in the
article. -Editor]

"Arlington County's library director, Diane Kresh, said she's "paying
a lot of attention to what our customers want." But if they aren't
checking out Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," she's not only keeping
it, she's promoting it through a new program that gives forgotten
classics prominent display.

"Part of my philosophy is that you collect for the ages," Kresh said.
"The library has a responsibility to provide a core collection for
the cultural education of its community." She comes to this view from
a career at the Library of Congress, where she was chief of public
service collections for 30 years."

To read the complete article, see: Full Story

The next day's Wall Street Journal responded with a piece by John L.
Miller headlined "Should Libraries' Target Audience Be Cheapskates
With Mass-Market Tastes?"

"What are libraries for? Are they cultural storehouses that contain
the best that has been thought and said? Or are they more like actual
stores, responding to whatever fickle taste or Mitch Albom tearjerker
is all the rage at this very moment?

"If the answer is the latter, then why must we have government-run
libraries at all? There's a fine line between an institution that aims
to edify the public and one that merely uses tax dollars to subsidize
the recreational habits of bookworms.

"Fairfax County may think that condemning a few dusty old tomes allows
it to keep up with the times. But perhaps it's inadvertently highlighting
the fact that libraries themselves are becoming outmoded."

Miller argues that a century ago when so many of our public libraries
were being created, books were much more expensive and out of the reach
of the common man.  But rising incomes and today's big book chains and
Internet channels have made books far more affordable and accessible.

He writes that librarians should regard themselves "as teachers,
advisers and guardians of an intellectual inheritance.

"The alternative is for them to morph into clerks who fill their
shelves with whatever their "customers" want, much as stock boys at
grocery stores do. Both libraries and the public, however, would be
ill-served by such a Faustian bargain."

To read the complete article (subscription required) see: Full Story

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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