Thursday, January 04, 2007

WSJ | OpinionJournal | Checked Out

This editorial is making it's way around libraryland -- what do you all think? A Washington-area library tosses out the classics:
...Library officials explain, not unreasonably, that their shelf space is limited and that they want to satisfy the demands of the public. Every unpopular book that's removed from circulation, after all, creates room for a new page-turner by John Grisham, David Baldacci, or James Patterson--the authors of the three most checked-out books in Fairfax County last month.

But this raises a fundamental question: 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.

There was a time when virtually every library was a cultural repository holding priceless volumes. Imagine how much richer our historical and literary record would be if a single library full of unique volumes--the fabled Royal Library of Alexandria, in Egypt--had survived to the present day...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Public Libraries, since they are taxpayer funded, are going to have to justify their existence, and re-clarify what their purpose is. I dont think the purpose of a Public Library is to be taxpayer subsidized Borders or Barnes and Noble. Ive always viewed the Public Library as a gateway between the Public and the Information Highway, but PLs should not be jettisoning the parts of their collections that will generally not be found in commercial bookstores.