Marlowe? Marlowe who?
January 4, 2007 11:07 AM   Subscribe

Fairfax County Public Library system ditches the classics. If titles remain untouched for two years, they may be discarded--permanently. "We're being very ruthless," boasts library director Sam Clay.... Books by Charlotte Brontë, William Faulkner, Thomas Hardy, Marcel Proust and Alexander Solzhenitsyn have recently been pulled.
posted by caddis (99 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't know what makes me sadder, that a library would discard such books or that nobody has touched them in two years.
posted by Falconetti at 11:10 AM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Tragic.
posted by sfslim at 11:20 AM on January 4, 2007


Fortunately, once the books are all gone and enough years have passed, most patrons won't know to miss them.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:22 AM on January 4, 2007


'Cuz, y'know, if it isn't in demand, happening, "now," in style, in fashion, it's just not relevant or necessary knowledge in any way.

Don't you know that books are just like clothes and pop bands? Gosh, you are so out of touch!! You can't join our clique, you just have no style.

/sarcasm

This is completely idiotic. Thank goodness there are so many librarians who know better.

Although, I'm reminded that the Library of Alexandria was burned to the ground, and we lost perhaps thousands of years of knowledge that was recorded before 300CE-ish. Sigh.
posted by zoogleplex at 11:22 AM on January 4, 2007


awesome. so libraries are on the verge of turning into the shelves of every thrift store in america. time for some proactive action, people. rise up! dust off that library card, check out those classics, and -gasp!- read 'em.
posted by ms.jones at 11:25 AM on January 4, 2007


"We're being very ruthless," boasts library director Sam Clay

I think this guy is in the wrong line of work.
posted by tula at 11:26 AM on January 4, 2007


Just one more reason NoVa is the uppermost circle of hell.
posted by thecaddy at 11:26 AM on January 4, 2007


...I'm curious as to the last time the author himself read Dr. Faustus.

It's a easy impulse to thumb one's nose at the masses, but really, how often is one driven to pursue the more challenging works of literature all alone? Good literature is not always easy. I've been rebuffed from 'Life of Johnson' at least 3 times, and sometimes what you need is something a little more fluffy.

It would be neat though to reinvent the library as a source of a real literary education. Speakers, reading groups, etc...

Ulysses (for example) isn't something one would necessarily want to summit alone, but it greatly benefits from a guided reading. Imagine a library reading group, 'Conceptions of Satan thoughout literature.' You could have sections from the Bible, Dante, Milton, Marlowe, Goethe. There's the kind of hook that would bring people back.

What you don't need is some pedant scolding them for not eating their spinach.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:27 AM on January 4, 2007 [9 favorites]


This article seems like typical WSJ hand wringing by overblowing a story.

The Fairfax County Public Library system responds.

One should note that they have around 25 branches, so they might want to optimize what the space in individual branches is used for.

Even if a branch decides not to house some books, you can painlessly get them from the combined system.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 11:27 AM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Lowest Common Denominator system. LCD government. LCD education. LCD country. Par for the course.

Time for someone to start writing "The Theory of De-Evolution".
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:27 AM on January 4, 2007


Ruthless
posted by blue_beetle at 11:27 AM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


I blame the schools, for making every worthwhile endeavor of human intellect into a dull chore.
posted by SBMike at 11:31 AM on January 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Give a Hoot. Read a Book. - KtheC
posted by hal9k at 11:34 AM on January 4, 2007


See also, "Hello, Grisham -- So Long, Hemingway?", from the Washington Post, which has a selected sample of the excised books.

But, for example, if you want to check out The Sound and the Fury, which is on the list of culled books, the library still has nine copies in its various branches (I have a FCPL card, I used their catalog search which provides guest access if you are curious about other titles). You can request to pick it up at any branch, and it usually takes three days or so to save you the drive to where its usually shelved.

But they do let you check out your reading material yourself, which is totally awesome.
posted by peeedro at 11:36 AM on January 4, 2007


yikes. But the article brings up some thoughtworthy points:

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.


In the article people who read the classics are relegated to being called bookworms. hmmm. I wonder what jessamyn thinks?

I liked the response. Gee, life would have been miserable for me without libraries and the full range of books there.
posted by nickyskye at 11:37 AM on January 4, 2007


This story resonates with me because of what I hear about my own local library. I keep hearing from people in town what a wonderful library we have, but when I look around it seems quite unencumbered by books. There are books on lots of subjects and the like, but little depth. However, the media collection of movies, music etc. is quite good. They are thinking of change, but it is to add fancy coffee and bread vendors, not more books. The online database selection seems good though. Perhaps I am just a dead tree curmudgeon.
posted by caddis at 11:37 AM on January 4, 2007


What if I check it out and don't return it for two years, do I get to keep it without paying any fines? Cuz that would really help me build my library.
posted by effwerd at 11:40 AM on January 4, 2007


I'm sure they'll order them from another library in their system, and you can get them in a day or two.

If they had more room, they could keep more of the classics.

If this kind of thing upsets you, vote for your local library funding, whatever form it takes. Put up the bucks, or shut up.

When patrons ask me what they can do to help the library, I suggest checking out books they don't intend to read. Weeding is based on circ. Funding is based on circ. Boost circ. The librarian police won't be along to quiz you on the contents.
posted by QIbHom at 11:41 AM on January 4, 2007


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?

Mu.
posted by peeedro at 11:47 AM on January 4, 2007


Well, times change and libraries have limited shelf space. It is a misconception that libraries are archives of knowledge - they are simply a relatively small selection of books.

There are many lists of "most popular books" created from library records - but as interesting are the books that get dumped. This is a cool post and a look at something rarely seen. I'd like to see a "list of most dumped library books" every year.
posted by stbalbach at 11:51 AM on January 4, 2007


So what? Really? We live in a historical moment unlike any other, when the literary and cultural legacy of humankind is being made instantly accessible anywhere, any time. It is in the nature of texts to be reproducible and transferable and technology is extending this in ways that would have made even our recent forbears gasp in astonishment.

So if the folks of Fairfax County prefer to fill their public library shelves with dreck, it's not as if anything durable is being lost. Presumably the libraries at UVA or George Mason aren't purging their shelves; folks could readily access the classics there if they didn't want to spend money or dig around on the internet.

Want to get up in arms about priceless treasures lost? Try reading about what Americans let happen a few years ago in Baghdad.
posted by felix betachat at 11:55 AM on January 4, 2007


While it's no substitute for holding a book in your hands, many of these classics can be found free of charge on Project Guttenberg. Funny that the text-only Kama Sutra is the #1 download.
posted by SBMike at 11:55 AM on January 4, 2007


Absolutely tragic. I would hate to go to my local library looking for a classic, and be told they didn't have room for it.
posted by The Deej at 11:56 AM on January 4, 2007


Thanks for linking to the response, MonkeySaltedNuts. As soon as I saw this was a WSJ opinion piece, I just assumed it was wildly overblown if not downright mendacious, and I'm glad to have it confirmed. But it's true libraries are heading in unfortunate directions (see Nicholson Baker).

But they do let you check out your reading material yourself, which is totally awesome.


The NYPL's had that for years.
posted by languagehat at 11:58 AM on January 4, 2007


The sickest and most ironic part of this, to me, is thinking of this in the light of the ungodly sacrifices we know people made in Soviet Russia to keep Solzhenitsyn's work available no matter the cost.

This is the kind of story which sometimes makes me feel we no longer deserve our freedom.
posted by adamgreenfield at 12:08 PM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Nice comments leotrotsky and peeedro.
posted by nickyskye at 12:09 PM on January 4, 2007


I wrote a Greasemonkey script to keep track of what books I've taken out from my local library system.

The catalog entry for one old SF paperback was so screwed up that it broke my script. So when I returned it, I told a librarian about the entry problem. She looked it up and confirmed the problem and then mentioned that the book was up for removal and asked how good it was. I replied that it really sucked, so click-click she cheerfully deleted it from the catalog then and there.

[ suckitude example: space ships that have afterburners ]
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 12:09 PM on January 4, 2007


*Yawn*
Oh, this editorial again? Has it been 3 years already? Goodness, how time flies. Yes, sometimes large library systems that have many, many copies of The Classics discard a few–but not all–of those copies because nobody checks them out. It's not an unusual practice, they're not gutting the culture, and I assure you they've still got classics you'll never bother checking out on the shelves. Just not 50 copies.
It's cute what people who aren't librarians don't know about what we do. It'd be cuter if they just asked instead of writing stupid editorials. "New software" will tell us when books haven't circulated for a given period of time! Hold the phone! Next thing you know we'll be able to send people form letters when they have overdue books!
Incidentally, there are 5 copies of The Complete Plays of Christopher Marlowe–of which Dr. Faustus is one–in the Fairfax County Library System. I'm pretty sure Kit Marlowe would think that was funny.
posted by willpie at 12:10 PM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Once upon a time, while working as a library assistant, I stumbled upon a very early map of the lower Mississippi river, marking various tribal encampments, shoals, and the like. It was kept in an obscure corner of my university library, under some unrelated items at the bottom of a drawer.

...trying to get the librarians, even the research librarians, to care that a lovely nearly-unique item was decaying was like trying to pull teeth. The staff in Special Collections felt that since the map, however valuable, didn't fit into one of their preexisting areas of focus they didn't want it. Nobody wanted to know it even existed, because it represented extra work. A hassle to catalogue, a hassle to shelve, a hassle to preserve.

For several weeks I considered simply stealing it, because then I could get it properly restored and taken care of (I collect pre-1800s maps).

In the end, I placed it between two sheets of archival paper and carefully slid it back into a dark corner of the document collection to wait for the next random discoverer, just like someone else had probably done before me.

I still wonder if I did the right thing, or if I should have stolen it. They've since torn down the library and replaced it; hopefully they moved the cabinet into the new building as well, or else some metal recycling furnace has finally destroyed what time and laziness could not.
posted by aramaic at 12:10 PM on January 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Note: my anecdote doesn't change the fact that the WSJ is, as usual, asinine in their commentary.
posted by aramaic at 12:13 PM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


What you don't need is some pedant scolding them for not eating their spinach.

How utterly perfect is it that someone named "leotrotsky" would post this? Look, maybe a part of the problem is thinking of literature as "spinach" in the first place.

Or maybe I've misread you, in which case I apologize.
posted by adamgreenfield at 12:13 PM on January 4, 2007


Welcome to consumer culture.
posted by eparchos at 12:18 PM on January 4, 2007


[ suckitude example: space ships that have afterburners ]

What?!!! Those are the coolest kind of space ships!
posted by The Deej at 12:19 PM on January 4, 2007


When patrons ask me what they can do to help the library, I suggest checking out books they don't intend to read. Weeding is based on circ. Funding is based on circ. Boost circ. The librarian police won't be along to quiz you on the contents.

Oh, I do that! I've checked out language self-instruction tapes in obscure languages, like Arabic, Bahasa Indonesian and Georgian, just so that when they're up for review, someone will have checked them out in the last few years.
posted by jason's_planet at 12:20 PM on January 4, 2007


Can't get upset over this. If people wanted to read them, they would be reading them.
posted by smackfu at 12:22 PM on January 4, 2007


I wouldn't be surprised is many of the people posting in response to this story were librarians -- easily one of the most degraded professions of our time. Over the past several decades, librarians have discarded whatever practices called for professional bravery and honor, and become as class of panderers. Have you been in a public library lately? The noise can be deafening. No librarian has said "Shhhh" since 1963. CD cases rattle, teenagers scream. (My local library has an armed guard roaming the tables -- not to stop the teenagers from shouting at one another, but simply to keep them from fighting.) They allow any child of any age to check out the vilest pornography available, and tolerate open masturbators at their computer screens. They are terrified of asking for fines for overdue materials, and don't prosecute theft.
On the same principle that you have eunuchs guarding a seraglio, public librarians are recruited from those who -- if they don't actually hate them -- are indifferent to books and literature. Public librarians dearest wish is to get rid of all books, since they are troublesome and shabby, and to fill their libraries with computer screens and nice neat DVD cases.
At my library, they discard books (including mine!) that are still regularly being checked out (a fact that can be verified by their own records) and have chucked tens of thousands of LPs into the garbage.
Public librarians need to regain their professional self-respect. They are not there to be a day care center or the most popular spot in town. I'm not interested in their space problems. Most towns and cities own acres of empty buildings or vacant land that could be adopted for the storage of books. No librarian should ever throw out a book. Ever. Nor should they tolerate the disrespect or abuse of materials. And they should re-learn the most important syllable in their entire professional lexicon:
SHHHHHHHH!
posted by Faze at 12:26 PM on January 4, 2007


One of my favorite things to do in libraries is to look for a book that is clearly old and has never been checked out. A couple years ago in the Tulane University main library there was a copy of the Collected Papers of P. A. M. Dirac, published in 1988 or so. Never once checked out. The billing slip for when they they bought it was stuck in the middle of the book. It was around a hundred dollars.

In 2000 I was in the Earth Science Library at Stanford and they had a copy of S. Warren Carey's "Expanding Earth" published and purchased in 1967 and never once checked out. I have never read the entire collected papers of Dirac, but Carey's book is a masterpiece, and apparently forty years of earth scientists at one of the leading earth science institutes on the earth have never once looked at it.
posted by bukvich at 12:27 PM on January 4, 2007


When patrons ask me what they can do to help the library, I suggest checking out books they don't intend to read. Weeding is based on circ. Funding is based on circ. Boost circ. The librarian police won't be along to quiz you on the contents.

Oh, I do that! I've checked out language self-instruction tapes in obscure languages, like Arabic, Bahasa Indonesian and Georgian, just so that when they're up for review, someone will have checked them out in the last few years.
posted by jason's_planet at 3:20 PM EST on January 4 [+]
[!]


Just think about that for a moment. No one wants to check it out, so you do, for the sole purpose of keeping a particular version of something in the library that no one wants to get from a library.

A lot of you are jumping from the fact that no one is checking the book out of the library to the conclusion that no one reads the classics.

Go to a bookstore. See all the classics there? See how they have half a dozen editions of each of them? Do you really think a for-profit bookstore would waste extremely valuable real estate on books that no one wants or will ever buy?

Classics aren't checked out of the library because people who want to read them just buy them. The Barnes & Noble Classics edition of most books are less expensive than the Cliffs Notes for the same book. They are likely less expensive than some stupid coffee drink you can buy there.

There is a great deal to be said for owning your own copy of a book, so you can make notes in the margins that you'll see again later when you re-read the book. The same goes for building a library. Personally, I like having owning a copy of every book I've read, even if it means I building another bookcase every three months.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:41 PM on January 4, 2007 [3 favorites]


Hold on a minute. Just because a book hasn't been checked out doesn't mean that nobody has ever looked at it. For purposes of research or just plain curiosity, I have read substantial parts of many books in the library without checking them out.
posted by pablocham at 12:44 PM on January 4, 2007


adamgreenfield: You have misread, but no worries.

I like books (which you'd notice reading the rest of the comment).

I dislike pious editorial writers speaking of 'priceless volumes' consigned to the rubbish heap, treating the pleasure of literature as if it were some sort of edifying (if perhaps dull and to be suffered through) moral activity.

It's these very sort of blowhard uncreative fingerwagging types (I'm looking at you Bill Bennett) that seem to me to be the natural enemies of artists of all stripes. They can only praise a work once the artist is safely dead, and the work firmly esconced in the Canon.

I mean look at his choices! His examples of priceless literature are so pedestrian in scope as to be laughable. Not that they aren't good, just that they're so obvious.

One could write quite the jeremiad on this, this schmuck doesn't even have the writing skills to do it properly.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:50 PM on January 4, 2007


Dude, like, that Proust is hard, man! Like a humongous number of pages just to describe a dream? All those like, modifiers and prepositions or whatever...it's like freaking English class!

Echannel is much easier...celebrity genitals!
posted by aiq at 12:52 PM on January 4, 2007


I've given a lot of thought lately to donating my substantial book collection to a local library, as I'll have access to those books more or less whenever I want (as a library patron) without having to store the books myself. The downside, of course, being that I can't take the books when I move away.

However, after reading this, I've decided to keep 'em for myself.
posted by davejay at 12:54 PM on January 4, 2007


leotrotsky writes "I mean look at his choices! His examples of priceless literature are so pedestrian in scope as to be laughable. Not that they aren't good, just that they're so obvious. "

I dunno. Solzhenitsyn? I mean, if it Dickens or James were the last name on that list, I might agree with you, but I think Solzhenitsyn is less than obvious and broadens the scope of the list significantly.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:55 PM on January 4, 2007



It's these very sort of blowhard uncreative fingerwagging types (I'm looking at you Bill Bennett) that seem to me to be the natural enemies of artists of all stripes. They can only praise a work once the artist is safely dead, and the work firmly esconced in the Canon.


You realize why this is, don't you? Because clowns like Bennett value the notion of "the Canon" more than the actual books in it, because along with the Canon comes all sorts of old traditions that they like because it reinforces their power and beliefs. Frozen ideas, and such.

They have no ability to discern the importance or exceptional qualities of a particular book on its own, so they just defer to what their authority figure has told them is important. This is why it takes them a generation to catch up. In that time, the old gatekeepers of the canon are replaced with newer ones, who are in fact able to recognize newer "great" books, and incorporate them.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:58 PM on January 4, 2007


I read "A Day in the Life..." in High School around the same time as '1984' and 'The Fountainhead'. I mentally lump it in the same group. Anything that shows up on High School reading lists I consider relatively mainstream.
posted by leotrotsky at 1:04 PM on January 4, 2007


1. Withdrawing books based solely on circ is shoddy librarianship, and can be evidence of understaffing. Under no circumstances is it evidence of censorship. It is almost always, however, caused by laziness.

2. This is a shitty article that ignores the realities of running libraries.
posted by koeselitz at 1:08 PM on January 4, 2007


Just think about that for a moment. No one wants to check it out, so you do, for the sole purpose of keeping a particular version of something in the library that no one wants to get from a library.

Someone might want to get it from a library at some point in the future. So I do it for them.

There is a great deal to be said for owning your own copy of a book, so you can make notes in the margins that you'll see again later when you re-read the book.

There's also a great deal to be said for having the kind of money that allows you to own your own copies of books. Unfortunately, the New York City real estate and labor markets are not as cooperative and understanding as you seem to think they are.
posted by jason's_planet at 1:14 PM on January 4, 2007


Public librarians need to regain their professional self-respect. They are not there to be a day care center or the most popular spot in town. I'm not interested in their space problems. Most towns and cities own acres of empty buildings or vacant land that could be adopted for the storage of books. No librarian should ever throw out a book. Ever. Nor should they tolerate the disrespect or abuse of materials. And they should re-learn the most important syllable in their entire professional lexicon:
SHHHHHHHH!


You're not interested in their space problems. Are you interested in higher taxes to store older books? How much are you willing to spend? Books are destroyed all the time, as most books now adays never even sell through their first printing.

Making libraries sterile dealthy quiet places is a sure way to create a generation of people who have no love for libraries, and thus feel no need to pay for them. I am not condoning masturbation in the library, but the image of a place where even the small whisper is met with a SSSSHHHHH is not condusive to getting people to pay taxes to support it.
posted by zabuni at 1:16 PM on January 4, 2007



So what? Really? We live in a historical moment unlike any other, when the literary and cultural legacy of humankind is being made instantly accessible anywhere, any time. It is in the nature of texts to be reproducible and transferable and technology is extending this in ways that would have made even our recent forbears gasp in astonishment.


Go to a bookstore. See all the classics there? See how they have half a dozen editions of each of them? Do you really think a for-profit bookstore would waste extremely valuable real estate on books that no one wants or will ever buy?

It's nice to imagine we live in a world where textual information is readily available, but fact of the matter is that some books, even worthwhile ones, are hard, damned hard to track down.

I don't know how often someone goes to look for them, but if it hadn't been for a library I would never have been able to read a near complete set of the Bollingen Complete Works of Paul Valery (English translation). You won't find any in a non-used book store much less a half dozen editions and even in a used book store, you'll never find a complete set. (It's at least a 13 volume set). There are a handful, arguably not even the most important, that are findable pretty easily online. But a complete set? You're dreaming.
posted by juv3nal at 1:22 PM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Apologies for conflating quotes from two different commenters there. I think they speak to similar point though.
posted by juv3nal at 1:26 PM on January 4, 2007


They allow any child of any age to check out the vilest pornography available, and tolerate open masturbators at their computer screens.

Woah! What library do you go to?!
posted by baklavabaklava at 1:33 PM on January 4, 2007


I haven't worked in a library yet but am a recent library school grad. One of the biggest things stressed across all of our courses was the balance that librarians must strive to find between what people want (dozens of copies of Grisham, King, etc.) and what people should want (the classics) or might want (obscure books that no one may check out for years.) One professor defined the finding of this balance as "an art, a science and a dash of magic."

Responding to the point about books that appear to never be checked out,
Nicholas Basbanes has an anecdote in one of his books that's appropriate. A writer is doing research at a library and finds the perfect book for their project. He opens it up and notices it was purchased in the late 1800's and never checked out once. He mentions this to the librarian and wonders aloud, "I wonder who this book was bought for?" "Why, we bought it for you!" the librarian replies calmly.
posted by Jaybo at 1:36 PM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Libraries are not archives, they exist to preserve public demand. I worked as a clerk in a public library for many years, and would have this discussion frequently with many of my fellow workers, including a few discard-shy librarians.
"Five hundred titles were published in 1550, 2,300 in 1650, 11,000 in 1750, and 50,000 in 1850. In 1550 the cumulative bibliography was approximately 35,000 titles; in 1650 it was 150,000; in 1750 it was 700,000; in 1850 it was 3.3 million; in 1950 it was 16 million; and in 2000 it was 52 million. In the first century of printing (1450–1550), 35,000 titles were published; in the last half-century (1950–2000), there were a thousand times more—36 million." — Gabriel Zaid, "So Many Books"
(warning: link is a pdf)
Libraries are most certainly not gaining shelf space at the same rate. Librarians do take care NOT to discard last copies of rare classics, but who is being served by buildings filled with books which nobody reads. Couldn't that shelf space be best used for books the public actually cares to read?

We're accustomed to think of the books as almost holy, but a large part of is the historical cost of books, which has dropped enormously in real terms over the last decades.

It's also incredibly easy to order replacement copies of a book nowadays if there is a surge in demand for a "classic" book (if Oprah chooses it for her book club, for example.)
posted by action man bow-tie at 1:55 PM on January 4, 2007


When I was growing up in the next county over, the Fairfax county public library selection was so much better than ours that we got cards for their system as well. It's an affluent county so they could afford more. While getting rid of classics is a shame, I suspect (haven't been there in over a decade, so couldn't be sure) their selection is still far better than you could find in many other places.
posted by someone else at 2:02 PM on January 4, 2007


Over the past several decades, librarians have discarded whatever practices called for professional bravery and honor, and become as class of panderers.

Nonsense. The world has changed and libraries have changed along with it, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. I'm no panderer.

They allow any child of any age to check out the vilest pornography available, and tolerate open masturbators at their computer screens.

This is not true, demonstrably not true. There have been rare cases that have been highly publicized, but as a matter of policy and practice, this almost never happens nationwide in public libraries.

This is a shitty article that ignores the realities of running libraries.

That's about my feeling on this. It's easy to get a microscope into the way one small part of a large institution decides to do somethign and draw hand-wringing conclusions about how the whole institution is going to hell in a handbasket. Weeding is complicated, always hard to do, and always subject to close scrutiny. Public libraries very often do not have as part of their mission statement being a "last copy" archive for materials, that's usually the job of an academic or state library. That said, having copies of these books available but not in every branch seems sane. THAT said, judging a book's usefulness on whether it has been check out in the last two years seem to me to be remarkably short-sighted.
posted by jessamyn at 2:03 PM on January 4, 2007


Actually, jaybo, my father was studying buddhist scriptures after retiring and found out that the book he requested (a french translation of a sanscrit text by a Jesuit priest) had never been read; it had not been cut open. It was from 1873.

But that was an academic library.
posted by jouke at 2:04 PM on January 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Libraries aren't for the books you want to read right now, they're for the ones you might get around to reading someday.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:09 PM on January 4, 2007


The WaPo article seemed to be a bit more balanced, in pointing out that librarians are not blindly pulling books that have not been circulated in 24 months.

But ultimately, I think that libraries are in a no-win situation here. Any decision they make is going to be criticized as either not changing with the times, or not preserving the classics. They are criticized for not serving their community, but there are no Carnegies stepping up to help them expand services.

And a fair number of those works that have not been checked out in 24 months are likely to be less than classic works that have been superseded by more recent texts: guides for old operating systems, kitschy crafts books, business and travel guides. The argument for keeping these around is a bit less strong.

On another note, what about inter-library loan? Or requests for purchase? Generally, I've found that if I can't find a book through the library system, that they've been quite willing to purchase and stock it on the basis of a customer request or recommendation, or find ways to get the book to me.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:15 PM on January 4, 2007


I'm not interested in their space problems. Most towns and cities own acres of empty buildings or vacant land that could be adopted for the storage of books. No librarian should ever throw out a book. Ever.

Books and shelving are heavy. Not all buildings are suitable for such purposes, and modifying them is expensive. Not to mention that there's not much point in having a warehouse full of books somewhere, that the public can't actually get access to.

There are also very good reasons for throwing out books. Your public library probably doesn't need a copy of 'Windows 95 for Dummies' or 'The Best Gopher Sites on the Internet, 1993'. It probably doesn't need out-of-date editions of legal texts (my academic library, of course, does need to keep early editions - different libraries, different needs). It probably doesn't need 10-15 copies of best-sellers from the 1980s - but it did need them at the time.

I disagree with your other comments as well, but Jessamyn already answered those.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:26 PM on January 4, 2007


But it's true libraries are heading in unfortunate directions (see Nicholson Baker).

Yeah -- I thought of the same thing and Baker's New Yorker article "The Author vs. the Librarian" (10/14/96, p. 50–62) regarding San Francisco Library dumping their card catalog and a large number of books when they moved into new digs in 1996.

"A Hate Crime Against the Past" -- Novelist Nicholson Baker accuses "library of the future" of massive book dumping.
posted by ericb at 2:38 PM on January 4, 2007


I think the posters above who have pointed out all the hand-wringing and real issues that go beyond the pie-in-the-sky that we'd like to have (wouldn't it be nice if we prioritized such that our libraries were as big as, say, Borders?). But I'll try to push a little more light in amongst this heat.

I live in Loudoun county, the next one over, and while my library branch is about 1/3 the floorspace of the Borders down the street, they offer me a number of resources that have little to do with the physical location and make up for a lot. Here's their online list of databases which I can access from here at my desk w/o going to the branch, though I can do that as well.

Among the databases is NetLibrary. Among their books: Doctor Faustus, the last book mentioned in the editorial and on the Fairfax chopping block. I can read it from here or I can go sit in my branch library. It's true that I can't check it out, but at some point we prioritize for space.

Maybe the solution is going to lie with request and pull options. Only one of the ten books I have checked out from my branch have I pulled down from the stacks myself. I use greasemonkey to provide me a nice little click option inline when I browse Amazon, but I can just as easily do my searching on the LCPL website. From there I click a button and it's put on my list. If it's in the branch it gets pulled and they email me when it's ready for pickup. I rarely do it with things they don't have in the branch but it makes no difference - it could just as easily be in a giant warehouse and shipped to my branch the next day.

I think a lot of us love to browse the stacks, take things down, flip through them. But the fact that we enjoy it doesn't mean it's the optimal solution for our region or the best way to spend our money. It may well be that electronic reading for things in little demand and remote storage for things in the next tier down is the best solution to the problem we're trying to solve. Giving those of us who love to browse a place to do it is not the problem: providing a resource for everyone is.
posted by phearlez at 2:44 PM on January 4, 2007


I wonder how many of these "classics" being tossed are yellowed, stinking, disintegrating, unreadable Signet editions from the 1970s. When I worked in collection development at a public library maxed out on space (to buy one item you had to toss one item) I used to love finding those guys and chucking them. I threw out Homer, Plato, Shakespeare, Tolstoy -- you name 'em, I put 'em in the ol' circular file. Hell, I once threw out both the A and B texts of Faustus in one swoop.

Public libraries shouldn't keep everything. That's not the point of their existence and it's a waste of (generally limited) resources, especially for a branch library in a random county in Virginia. That's the job of the big academic libraries. The Fairfax weeding scheme sounds too simplistic, but looking at things that aren't being used isn't a bad place to start.
posted by rogue haggis landing at 2:53 PM on January 4, 2007


God forbid that editorialist John J. Miller actually do any research of his own. After all, that's what lowly reporters do, right? And heaven forfend that mere facts get in the way of a good rant.

Sadly for Miller, the Fairfax County Public Library, as do many public libraries these days, makes its catalog available online. It records 84 copies of For Whom The Bell Tolls in their system. And that's only the print version--I didn't count the audiobook (available on either CD or cassette) or the e-book. Of these 84, 24 are currently checked out.

Miller's statement (attributed to a Washington Post article, as if that excuses Miller from doing the basic fact-checking it took me two minutes to accomplish) that "Precisely nobody has checked out a copy from the Fairfax County Public Library system in the past two years," may be true if he means "there's one particular copy which has not been checked out in the past two years." But that interpretation wouldn't really support his rant, now, would it? What he's trying to imply, "no copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls has been checked out of FCPL within the past two years" is clearly and demonstrably false.

I don't know whether 24/84 is typical of how many copies of For Whom the Bell Tolls are checked out of FCPL at any one time, but if it is, it seems entirely reasonable to get rid of some of those 84 copies. And 24 copies checked out is hardly a harbinger of the End of Civilization As We Know It.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:53 PM on January 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Our libraries are closing, though my town's branch may remain open. *sigh*
posted by everichon at 2:55 PM on January 4, 2007


Miller's statement (attributed to a Washington Post article, as if that excuses Miller from doing the basic fact-checking it took me two minutes to accomplish) that "Precisely nobody has checked out a copy from the Fairfax County Public Library system in the past two years," may be true if he means "there's one particular copy which has not been checked out in the past two years."

Exactly. In all likelihood, that copy has degraded to the point of being unusable, been misshelved past the point of no-return, or was stolen and hasn't been in the building since 2002. Which means it absolutely has to be taken out of the collection.
posted by rogue haggis landing at 3:04 PM on January 4, 2007


Oh, and Marlowe's Doctor Faustus? Twelve copies in FCPL, two currently checked out. And that's only Doctor Faustus in a book by itself, not counting the addtional copies found in Marlowe's complete plays.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:08 PM on January 4, 2007


Now that many libraries in my area have switched to electronic checkout, the rubber-stamped date slips have been removed from most books and replaced by bar codes and/or RFID chips. I miss seeing the checkout dates inside the front cover: coming across a title that had not been read for years, I felt like I had found buried treasure.

Walking through the stacks at large libraries, I always wonder what valuable past knowledge is being lost through sheer neglect (accompanied by our unhealthy preoccupation with the latest and greatest current thing.) This brings to mind the scene from George Pal's The Time Machine where the Time Traveler crumbles to dust a long-dead book in the Eloi library. Going back to the future later, he takes a few books — which ones? — from his own library.

Project Gutenberg is a good start, and some type of selection process would be necessary, but perhaps we need a publicly-funded effort to scan forgotten books and put them online.
posted by cenoxo at 3:13 PM on January 4, 2007


I grew up in Fairfax County, and the libraries there were always great, I thought.

Now I live in Corpus Christi, one of the stupidest cities in the country, where I haven't even seen a library.

Even if the Fairfax system were to do such a thing (which is obviously ridiculous), I'd still yearn for those libraries.
posted by dopamine at 3:14 PM on January 4, 2007


I'm an avid reader. I buy books. People give me books. I get books for free. I have thousands (no kidding) of paperback fiction in boxes. I also have a box with the label "To Read." You know what's in that? The "classics." Yeah, there's other stuff in it, but I usually fish out the other stuff and read that. Every week or so I will haul out a classic and try to plow through it.

I enjoyed it as little as I did in grade school. The classics are the literary equivalent of lima beans, in many cases. They're "good for you," there's nothing terrible offensive about them, and they're a tradition. And I cannot stand them. Gods bless him wherever he is, but I cannot understand what the Good Doctor saw in The Great Gatsby that impelled him to type it out just so he could know what it was to write a "great novel"; never has a book that short bored me as much. Critics look down their noses at the extended descriptions of H.P. Lovecraft, but then they'll praise the far-longer tedium of adjectives and simile to be found in The Scarlet Letter.

Give me The Master and Margarita, instead. And let the libraries pitch these reading lists, approved by English teachers and school boards long since turned to dust. I won't miss them at all. Hell, a bunch of these books are in the public domain (as threatened as the concept might be), so it isn't as if they'll ever run out, and certainly Dover won't get tired of cranking out cheap copies. Libraries are threatened from all sides - who does research when you've got The Google? We have all kinds of entertainment appearing with which libraries must compete. Bring on the Grisham if it will keep them going.

Now, if I could only get my local branches to carry a more hip selection of CDs ...
posted by adipocere at 3:15 PM on January 4, 2007


jason's_planet, you get a gold star from this library staffer.

koeselitz
, you are right that weeding based only on circ is lazy. When I used to weed, I pulled books that looked like crap for either replacement or weeding, then checked to make sure I wasn't tossing out something that was one of the top books in its subject area (if non-fiction) or the last copy in our library system. A good library has procedures for all of this. Weeding is pretty involved, and uses a mix of judgement, experience and metrics.

A lot of folks are conflating college and university libraries with public libraries. Academic libraries don't weed nearly as often, and have the space (and funding) to keep items that haven't been checked out in 100 years. Public libraries don't. So, you create space by removing items that don't circ, aren't unique and aren't in good physical shape.
posted by QIbHom at 3:22 PM on January 4, 2007


From the FPP article:

Likewise, libraries should seek to shore up the culture against the eroding force of trends. The particulars of this task will fall upon the shoulders of individual librarians, who should welcome the opportunity to discriminate between the good and the bad, the timeless and the ephemeral, as librarians traditionally have done. They ought to regard themselves as not just experts in the arcane ways of the Dewey Decimal System, but as teachers, advisers and guardians of an intellectual inheritance.

Given the increasing trend of political activists to get lathered up into an pitchfork-carrying uproar anytime, say, a children's book about gay penguins appears on a library shelf, Miller's insistence that librarians "welcome the opportunity to discriminate between the good and the bad" and "shoulder" a responsibility that nobody else in American culture is shouldering (unless they are pandering to some special interest), with little to no support for their efforts, is a particularly thick stew of sophistry.

Oh, and what jessamyn said.
posted by blucevalo at 4:07 PM on January 4, 2007


I'm surprised no one has referred to the problems affecting the Maplewood (NJ) public library system, as reported here*. Libraries are often damned if they do (innovate to attract new visitors, who won't necessarily respect other users) and if they don't (stick to the old ways, lose patronage and have funding cut).
*NYT update on the story (too recent to allow link generator to do its thing).
posted by rob511 at 4:26 PM on January 4, 2007


As a child, the highlight of my summers were when my local public library sold the culls for a dollar a bag.
posted by figment of my conation at 4:44 PM on January 4, 2007


The classics are the literary equivalent of lima beans, in many cases. They're "good for you," there's nothing terrible offensive about them, and they're a tradition. And I cannot stand them... Give me The Master and Margarita, instead.

Dude, "classic" is just a name, a word. You've allowed yourself to be put off by a marketing label. It's like refusing to drink wine because you don't like the word "beverage." Will it put you off The Master and Margarita if I tell you that it is now considered a classic? The reason classics get called that is that they're really good books that a lot of people like for a long time. It's not their fault if idiot English teachers force them down kids' throats in unpleasant ways. The Great Gatsby is in fact one of the best novels written in America; if you were traumatized by a high-school class, that's too bad, but it says nothing about the quality of the book. Don't think I'm unsympathetic—I was put off the novels of Thomas Hardy forever by high-school English classes, so I know where you're coming from, but at least I put the blame where it belongs. I'm perfectly willing to agree that all those people who love Jude the Obscure are probably not deluded, and if I read it as an adult without having had it forced on me decades ago I might love it too... but I can't undo the past.
posted by languagehat at 5:13 PM on January 4, 2007


God, I hope they donate the books to DC's horrid library system!
posted by Pollomacho at 5:22 PM on January 4, 2007


Haha, I second Pollomacho's motion. DC libraries are an embarrassment.
posted by Falconetti at 5:34 PM on January 4, 2007


Dude, "classic" is just a name, a word. You've allowed yourself to be put off by a marketing label. It's like refusing to drink wine because you don't like the word "beverage." Will it put you off The Master and Margarita if I tell you that it is now considered a classic? The reason classics get called that is that they're really good books that a lot of people like for a long time.

Well said.
posted by caddis at 6:12 PM on January 4, 2007


Personally, I like having owning a copy of every book I've read, even if it means I building another bookcase every three months.

As Terry Pratchett says, you never have enough bookshelf space.

Re: this story, my only question is does the library have a policy of looking at unused books and putting them out on a more visible shelf for a while? The local public library does this all the time - I imagine it serves the same purpose as end of aisle displays in grocery stores. Catches your attention where placement in the usual spot wouldn't.
posted by Zinger at 6:25 PM on January 4, 2007


"A classic is something everybody wants to have read, but no one wants to read." -- Mark Twain
posted by John of Michigan at 6:50 PM on January 4, 2007


Heh. I put off Gatsby for years because I thought that it'd suck. When I finally slapped it into the rotation in the bathroom, I plowed through it and loved it.
posted by klangklangston at 6:56 PM on January 4, 2007


Actually, I never had to touch The Great Gatsby in high school. I first dealt with it when I had to tutor someone in English. Despised the book. Tried many times to get into it, never could. I'm talking about the classics that I have saved up, that I never read in high school, and now I keep ramming my head against them, trying to determine why these are supposed to be so great. Many of them strike me as just ... compentently-written fiction that serves of a good example of its time, but nothing more. I suspect that, in a century, The Pelican Brief will be highly-regarded literature.

And, no, I'm not talking about forming a reaction against what I was forced to read in high school. Think about Fifty Works of English Literature We Could Do Without. Am I reacting against a label or am I saying that the Emperor has no clothes? And it seems like I'm not the only one who thinks that many of these books are over-rated.

But since you brought up high school, the list of books Approved For English Class ages steadily, unless you want to count some of the dreadful historical fiction they make kids read for their "Unified" class. One more book with a butter churn ...
posted by adipocere at 7:02 PM on January 4, 2007


I am a newbie librarian and will admit to very mixed feelings.

I don't think that dusty, unused tomes of Proust are really doing that much for anybody. Between bookstores, Gutenberg, inter-system requests, and interlibrary loan, it really shouldn't be that hard to get your hands on a copy of Proust if you need one.

But, OTOH, how much are we really serving the community by buying three hundred effing copies of the new James Patterson? What could we do if we bought 150 instead and had a couple of these people wait a few weeks or get themselves down to Borders? Could we be able to help the middle-school kid who desperately needs this exact book for her class tomorrow, and we don't have it? Could we be able to ameliorate the hourlong waits for the computers after school? A lot of the time I feel like we are just providing welfare for middle-class people who could easily get their thrillers and romances at the bookstore instead. But on the other other hand, it's by circulating umpteen hundred James Pattersons that we get the funding to provide computers for kids who don't have them at home, so I don't know, really.
posted by Jeanne at 7:16 PM on January 4, 2007


Also, you know, I read a ton of kids' books, so I'm not saying there's anything wrong with thrillers and romances and James Patterson. I will gladly recognize that they're a lot more readable than many of the classics, and even if I sort of giggle at Christian romance novels I think they belong in the library where I work as much as, or more than, Proust and Hemingway. But in my little leftie heart I feel like libraries should be something a little more than "Barnes and Noble, but you don't have to pay!"
posted by Jeanne at 7:20 PM on January 4, 2007


Jouke: Actually, jaybo, my father was studying buddhist scriptures after retiring and found out that the book he requested (a french translation of a sanscrit text by a Jesuit priest) had never been read; it had not been cut open. It was from 1873.

But that was an academic library.


That was your dad??? How cool! I should have noted that I was paraphrasing the anecdote from memory and might not have all the details correct.

And your implied point about academic v. public libraries (that was also made explicitly by Infinite Jest is important to keep in mind too. Both types of libraries do indeed have different roles, responsibilities, budgets, space issues and so on. But the bigger picture issues are the same - collecting and weeding books is a mix of art, science and "magic" (or "experience" if you're a more practical type.)
posted by Jaybo at 7:22 PM on January 4, 2007


I never had the Gatsby in high school either, instead I waded through Black Boy and Native Son, two of the worst books ever assigned anywhere. Oh, and Catcher in the Rye and Grapes Of Wrath, both of which I hated (I came back to Steinbeck after Tortilla Flats and loved him).

And I'll admit my shameful feeling of resentment toward the broadening of the canon to include perfunctory multicultural bullshit, when I feel kids should be reading The Republic and Satyricon. I largely felt that Toni Morrison was a waste of time, and I hated Maya Angelou with a white-hot passion. Woman Warrior, which I believe is by Amy Tan, was really good though. And I wish we'd have gotten more magical realism and Vonnegut, instead of the angst-fest.

Another problem is that a lot of classics actually take some work to get through because they're playing with form. They're classic because they're groundbreaking and exciting and take literature into a new direction, which can take some sophistication to read (especially on your own). On the other side, Grisham takes almost no sophistication. And that can be great when it's someone like Hemmingway (who I think is pretty straightforward and enjoyable, though I could easily brook disagreement).

The unfortunate fact is that just like there isn't enough space in any library to contain all of the great books ever written, there's never enough time to read all of 'em (especially once you factor in the level of backwork that some take).
posted by klangklangston at 8:57 PM on January 4, 2007


But, OTOH, how much are we really serving the community by buying three hundred effing copies of the new James Patterson? What could we do if we bought 150 instead and had a couple of these people wait a few weeks or get themselves down to Borders?

This is my biggest complaint against my local library system. As great as the library system is, I think their book purchases are very short sighted. Every month I review their New Books Purchased list and every month it is hundreds of copies of the lastest best sellers, as well as the latest installment of various mystery, SF, and fantasy series. (Did you know that there was a Keepsake Scrapbook Mystery Series? It boggles the mind)

Yet books that are less mainstream-- even those favorably reviewed-- do not make it onto the shelves. For example The Mad Cook of Pymatuning received many great reviews and my husband and I were both very interested in reading it, but I finally had to buy it from Amazon.

Thank goodness for Amazon! It often fills in when I can't find a minor classic such as the books of Somerville & Ross.

As far as the classics go, I do have my own copies of Dickens and Tolstoy and Austen and etc. (and reread them frequently) but it still makes me sad that at our particular branch Dickens has a few inches one shelf while Danielle Steele gets 8 or more shelves-- at least 2 or 3 copies of everything she has ever written. Why does she deserve shelf space for multiple copies of each of her "books" while dearest Dickens gets about 6 of his 16 major works represented? This gives the casual browser a false sense of Steele's importance and relegates Dickens to a negligible role.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:44 AM on January 5, 2007


Klangklang, you should pick up the book "King Dork" if for no other reason than to read Dr FrankFrank Portman's rants and raves about "the Catcher cult."
posted by phearlez at 9:06 AM on January 5, 2007


SLoG, did you ask anyone at the library to purchase a copy of The Mad Cook of Pymatuning? There are a great many well-reviewed books out there and we just cannot buy them all. Good librarians develop a knack for taking the pulse of their communties, but very few of us are full-fledged mind readers. If you want it, ask. Most libraries will order a book for you if ask them to (exceptions for wildly expensive, out of print, or otherwise rare books apply); we might just as well buy something obscure and well-reviewed that we know someone wants as something obscure and well-reviewed that we suspect will go over well in our town if we display it nicely on the New Books shelf.
The Dickens vs. Steel matter is complicated, but the short version is this: it's not the library's job to be a barometer of authors' relative importance.
posted by willpie at 9:07 AM on January 5, 2007


Found out about this thread a little late, but this issue's been on my mind ever since I went back to visit the public library in the small city where I grew up.

As a geeky kid, I spent endless late afternoons and Saturday mornings prowling through a collection of 19th-century magazines, outdated but fascinating reference books, real estate atlases showing my neighborhood when it was under construction, and a huge, huge collection of foreign-language books assembled for the polyglot immigrant population. A few years ago I went back to see the new building. It was filled, with many spanking new books in plastic covers. There was a large collection of contemporary feel-good literature of affirmation and self-help materials. Other than a few contemporary Spanish-language items, the foreign language collection was gone. All of the unusual historical material I remembered had been winnowed down into a small history room, and no one could or would say where tens (perhaps hundreds) of volumes had ended up. Later on, I started to see some of these at antiquarian bookshops. In all fairness, the library was jammed with people, especially kids and youth, which always brings a smile to my face.

But this got me thinking about what might have been going through the heads of the librarians in charge of weeding the collection back in the 1980s. Were they guided by a sense that the demographics of the city had changed? Did they feel that the audience for Eurocentric and historical collections had vanished? Did they equate modernization with heritage-cleansing? I don't know. But if they were thinking along those lines, I'd respond this way: Sooner or later (if not already) the newer residents of MyCity, or their children or grandchildren, will be just as curious about the history, culture and landscape of their adopted city and nation, and they'll be looking for those books.

We shouldn't fear unused shelves, and we should fight to give librarians the fiscal freedom to maintain them. It's never too late to blow the dust off. Just because no one seems to be looking at a book or periodical right now, that isn't sufficient reason to junk it. Of all people, librarians need to think carefully about the dangers of eternalizing the present, as they live to enable our future.
posted by footage at 9:09 AM on January 5, 2007


As a geeky kid, I spent endless late afternoons and Saturday mornings prowling through a collection of 19th-century magazines, outdated but fascinating reference books, real estate atlases showing my neighborhood when it was under construction, and a huge, huge collection of foreign-language books assembled for the polyglot immigrant population. A few years ago I went back to see the new building. It was filled, with many spanking new books in plastic covers. There was a large collection of contemporary feel-good literature of affirmation and self-help materials. Other than a few contemporary Spanish-language items, the foreign language collection was gone. All of the unusual historical material I remembered had been winnowed down into a small history room, and no one could or would say where tens (perhaps hundreds) of volumes had ended up. Later on, I started to see some of these at antiquarian bookshops.

Christ, that pisses me off. Yeah, let's throw away the past and the world so we can get more butts in the seats and maybe some extra funding this quarter. Because (the motto of today's America) this quarter is all that matters.
posted by languagehat at 9:16 AM on January 5, 2007


Amy Tan

klangklangston, you're of course thinkign of the great Maxine Hong Kingston. I know they all look same, but jeez.*

*NOTRACIST.
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:27 AM on January 5, 2007


footage & languagehat: Well, in contrast my highly-regarded research library does not keep 19th century periodicals on the shelf. They are converted to more durable microfiche and/or digitized. There is a middle ground between keeping everything on shelf, and throwing away everything that hasn't been used in two years. One of the big problem with many of those periodicals is that just preserving them is a big problem. The paper and inks used to create them lead to their own destruction.

Perhaps one of my frustrations with this whole thread is that there is a lot of armchair babble about what libraries should be doing, and not a lot of interest in actually helping libraries do it given competing missions and lack of resources. Perhaps archival maintenance of community history requires resources that would be best achieved by a historical society rather than the public library. Such an organization would not be limited by the demand to circulate materials, or promote general literacy and education goals.

There is also a bit of oddness to the whole concept of "middle-class welfare," as if all "middle-class" families can afford to satisfy the needs of bibliovore children. Or "lower-class" families don't deserve access to volumes published in the last 5 years.

languagehat: Christ, that pisses me off. Yeah, let's throw away the past and the world so we can get more butts in the seats and maybe some extra funding this quarter. Because (the motto of today's America) this quarter is all that matters.

Well, from what I've seen of how libraries work, there is more than a bit of uncertainty as to how to keep them open over the next few years. One of the things that sort of scares me was reading a section from a related field about the "Big Charity" hospital in New Orleans. It was an institution that had been run on the margins for so long, it had no money for infrastructure or a safety net in case of disaster. The end result is that a critical level of service in that area no longer exists.

It is my impression that many public libraries are being run on the margins with little reserve for either funding cuts or disaster preparedness. "Extra funding this quarter," often means the ability to keep current staff. I can't find figures for libraries overall, but for my local library acquisitions are only 1/6th of the total budget.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:41 PM on January 5, 2007


And of course, the obvious solution is to make a habit of checking out or requesting books that you consider to be essential reading at your local library.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:47 PM on January 5, 2007


phearlez, I'll see if my library has it.
(Sort of related anecdote: I remember talking with a then-girlfriend about Salinger on the beach around Lake Michigan, after dropping her off for an academic conference. She was in love with Franny and Zooey, and our relationship was deteriorating, though I didn't know/couldn't tell at the time. She went off to Thailand not too long after that, and before I visited her, I read it. The parallels between their smug self-destruction and self-pity and hers were there, and it was one of the true rifts for us that I found it disgusting and off-putting, while she found the quiz kids deeply sympathetic. I've never had a taste for smart people in fiction, as they always seem to reveal the limitations of the author far more than of the character, and in this case I think they revealed the short-comings of the audience. While she was feeling constrained by the boundaries of overachievement, and romanticising the emotionally-damaged genius, I couldn't relate to the willful egotism of "special" childen. While perhaps not directly corelated, as I can't remember the book well enough to tie this in, she was the final straw in a pattern of bad relationships that all seem to involve children of divorce [and petty, manipulative divorce at that]. I haven't had a good relationship with a woman with divorced parents yet, and, God willing, I'll never have to date one again.
That all only furthered my dislike of Salinger, though I think his Nine Stories is pretty good. It's only over an entire novel that I keep feeling like shouting "Fuck you, retard!" to all his characters, which might be an argument that he dreamd up better characters than he as a writer was able to realize.)
posted by klangklangston at 8:33 PM on January 5, 2007


Christ, that pisses me off. Yeah, let's throw away the past and the world so we can get more butts in the seats

Well, those butts paid for that facility so providing a service they're interested in needs to be at least a thought in making decisions about how to spend their money. Refusing to throw away any of the past to accommodate the desires of the people footing the bill is just as bad as ignoring the larger picture.
posted by phearlez at 3:38 PM on January 6, 2007


I understand all that, and I didn't say libraries should never throw anything away. Did you actually read the comment I was responding to? If "those butts" want nothing in the library but comic books and porno videos (to take it to the extreme), should everything else be tossed out to accommodate them? Balancing democracy (pandering) and culture (elitism) has never been easy, but we're toppling way over in the first direction these days.
posted by languagehat at 5:59 PM on January 6, 2007


I did read the comment, and the opening bit you didn't quote said "ever since I went back to visit the public library in the small city where I grew up." To me that describes a strong pressure both financial and topological to serve the community which may have little need for lofty matters like "outdated but fascinating reference books" and atlases that are no longer relevant.

Seriously, pisses me off? Over materials being removed that are in fact nothing more than curiosities? That's the main reason I bothered to answer - if you'd just said that makes you sad I'd completely agree and understand, but you're talking about anger over the organization serving its constituency, The only thing in that list from footage that concerns me is the lack of new foreign language materials and quite frankly that's the one assessment I am most skeptical about. Footage may or may not be multilingual and really paying attention to the options available in Spanish.

You also don't quote the follow-up the library was jammed with people, especially kids and youth and while you can glibly dismiss that as putting butts in seats I don't think that's a minor concern. We need to moderate our serving people's desires with feeding their needs, but it may well be that public libraries just aren't the place to serve those loftier goals.

And all of that overlooks the question footage probably can't answer: how many of those treasured bits of history are still available to the determined through inter-library loans or alternate sources? Sometimes the things that serve the obscure and those of us who are off the beaten path and like old useless maps are just going to have to accept that we're going to be inconvenienced slightly compared to the hundred-fold more common folk who want to look at contemporary topographic charts.
posted by phearlez at 7:04 PM on January 7, 2007


They better be careful when they order new books.
posted by homunculus at 3:25 PM on January 10, 2007


I live in Fairfax County, VA and I can confirm that our libraries suck. The one nearest my home sucks big-time; everything I want usually has to come through interlibrary loan. This shenanigan isn't a surprise at all.
posted by etoile at 9:28 AM on January 11, 2007


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