Wednesday, January 03, 2007

WSJ on Public Libraries

I think someone has been channeling the Annoyed Librarian. From an article in today's OpinionJournal about weeding unpopular books in the Fairfax County Public Library System:

"The bottom line is that it has never been easier or cheaper to read a book, and the costs of reading probably will do nothing but drop further.

If public libraries attempt to compete in this environment, they will increasingly be seen for what Fairfax County apparently envisions them to be: welfare programs for middle-class readers who would rather borrow Nelson DeMille's newest potboiler than spend a few dollars for it at their local Wal-Mart.

Instead of embracing this doomed model, libraries might seek to differentiate themselves among the many options readers now have, using a good dictionary as the model. Such a dictionary doesn't merely describe the words of a language--it provides proper spelling, pronunciation and usage. New words come in and old ones go out, but a reliable lexicon becomes a foundation of linguistic stability and coherence. 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.

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."

Hasn't this alternative already arrived?

9 comments:

Dances With Books said...

Wasn't the point of Carnegie and public libraries something along the lines of that welfare program. Sure, it was not for the middle class, but the working class, but I thought there was something in there about using the public library to better yourself or other. He says welfare as if it was a bad thing (ok, that can be debated in some other post). I am sure that Carnegie did not have DeMille in mind when it came to wholesome reading, but I leave that to others. What I did wonder was about the cheapness of reading. Other than the few books at Wal-Mart, apparently that writer has not been to a bookstore recently where a new book is easily 30-40 bucks on hardcover (no softcover yet on that new Stephen King for instance). Then again, I am not the WSJ's demographic, so maybe it is cheap for them. I am more of a Half-Price books person. However, the writer caught the issue beautifully:

"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."

Why the heck can't the national organization actually work towards that instead of the (insert a few choice words here) they actually do work on. Things like intellectual freedom aside, let's just say they are not doing well at all.

Hope you had a safe and happy holiday season. Happy New Year.

Anonymous said...

The preise is bunk, however, and all the books cited are available at nearby branches. In multiple copies. http://tinkertytonk.blogspot.com/

Otherwise, however, it is interesting to see a national publication focus on one of AL's favoritist topics. The ALA won't care unless they drop copies of the Koran or Das Kapital from the catalog--then all hell will break loose. The AARP won't care unless the DVD section is shut down.

--Taupey

shade said...

I think you need to collect your DWMs and stage a coup on the SRRT and the ALA.

Viva la Amargada Bibliotecaria!



(and to those who will be snapping at my heels for the poor translation - I don't really know Spanish - but I try)

Bunny Watson said...

Of course, the reason the middle class flocks to the public library for the trash they want there is because they know that the 50th Nora Roberts book out this month is not worth even the incredibly cheap price it's available for in modern society. Why pay $8 for trash? And they know it's trash too. And frankly, it annoys the hell out of me that I pay taxes so people can read trash.

mdoneil said...

A year and a half of public librarianship and not once did I do more than 10 minutes of reference work for a patron. Not that they didn't have questions but they got bored when I showed them sources, heck they were bored when I simply looked up the answers. I was a fecking clerk who did little more than put a reserve on the forthcoming Grisham or Harry Potter or Nora Roberts or Tim LaFeckinHaye.

I also became a de facto IRS tax form supplier this time of year.

I hate public librarianship and I hate almost all public library patrons.

Bunny Watson said...

That's sad, mdoneil. I have fond memories of using my public library when I was a kid. From the ages of about 11-15 I was there almost every day in the summer picking up books to read (I'd read everything in my dad's library by that point). I read just about every classic I could get my hands on and I shudder thinking about kids like me not being able to find Dumas or Bronte or even Hemingway because middle-aged housewives and dumb kids only want the latest Grisham or comic book.

Jason said...

How about "Dumas for Dumbasses?"

Michelle said...

Personally I don't see the point in libraries keeping books on their shelves that no one wants to read or that never circulate. If their general public wants to read Nora Roberts or King, and that is what circulates, it makes sense to have those authors. I find it annoying to shelve books on shelves that are ready to pop the entire row of books off because everyone is so scared to weed out the books no one reads anymore. At the same time, with so many library systems out there, it seems to me it should be easier to distribute collections between libraries so they are more balanced and then if one library doesn't have a classic, another library is sure to have it and the patron can ILL it. Why in the world would I pay full price for a book I can read for free from the library, "trash" or not? Maybe more libraries need to utilize Project Gutenberg.

Michelle said...

mdoneil, wow, bitter much? Perhaps you should try to get a job at an academic library where your intellectual talents will be put to better use...