Monday, March 24, 2008

Save the libraries!

Left: Graphic by Aaron Louie.

From Mountain Xpress, here is Ileana Grams-Moog, discussing an ongoing, national issue--the continuous, rapid depletion of public library collections. She is describing the process in Asheville (NC) but it could just as easily have been anywhere:

From my time working as a librarian, I know that all libraries cull their collections on an ongoing basis. But what’s happening now is apparently a permanent downsizing. Nor is it only fiction that is disappearing. Science, history, biography, psychology, cooking, gardening, crafts: Every area is being depleted. Many—indeed, most—of the books being sold are out of print and therefore not easily available elsewhere, if at all. This is especially deplorable in areas where old books contain information not available in new ones. In cooking, gardening, crafts, yoga, poetry, history and even in science, in fields such as animal behavior and paleontology, old books contain detailed, lively information that’s no longer covered in more recent ones. To get rid of these books is the equivalent of deliberate, collective amnesia.

I was told that the criterion used is how recently the book last circulated. I just bought, for $2, a book that I took out about a year ago (and that cost the library more than $30 when acquired).
The other issue is storing the books, if they are not discarded. The public appears willing to pay for libraries, but not usually willing to spend tax money to build warehouses for old books that no longer circulate. (What's to become of the thousands of old, dated books, if indeed they are kept?) There are thousands of volumes discarded every year, everywhere. Most municipalities have periodic book-sales, and if you have ever been to one of these, you know some really fantastic, unique books are culled from local collections, constantly.

And what about the user-atmosphere of the libraries themselves? In larger cities (and increasingly, in small ones, too) homeless people sleep in libraries during the day, use the restrooms, panhandle when security guards aren't looking, etc. Have Borders and Barnes & Noble become the new 'library'--as educated, suburban readers prefer not to deal with the riff-raff that is the general public?

For an entertaining and informative take on the library biz, check out Blogging Librarian.

And I can only add, with considerable vehemence, SAVE THE LIBRARIES!!!!!!
Listening to: The Volebeats - Radio Flyer
via FoxyTunes


a very public sociologist said...

It's the same here across the pond. Libraries always come in for funding cuts because county and city councils see them as soft options. They justify the attacks in terms of dropping numbers of borrowers. But of course, how can libraries win them back if their stock is constantly being depleted?

CrackerLilo said...

I used to work at a library (support staff, not admin) and saw the big-city one where I worked become basically a daytime homeless shelter. Apparently it goes on all over the country. It's really sad, and it also has the effect of making parents afraid to let kids explore or teens go there for research. The internet is wonderful, but people also need to READ BOOKS and have a large collection to turn to.

I add that if you can donate, even an old book of your own, *do*.

Daisy said...

CL--that is a GREAT article, and thanks so much for linking.

ArrogantWorm said...

Library sales are where I get most of my books *from*. I'm constantly amazed that they put so many out to pasture that way. That's where I've gotten most of my science fiction and fantasy there than at Barns & Noble, which would cost thirty or forty bucks, them usually being hardcover containing many stories, along with several cookbooks and some rather nice anthropology texts with detailed culture and symbology references. They also get rid of the real crappy books, though. Like Falwell, which I snagged for a quarter. I won't donate to the libraries with such large sales, because the same books would just end up back on the table the next year. What use is that, really? The circulation criteria is a bit of a bad way to get rid of books; I picked up Heinlein, Mary Shelley, Machiavelli, Poe, Tennessee Williams, Asimov, et cetera (along with a number of lesser known authors that turned out to be absolutely grand) that way. It makes me wonder what the rest of the public is reading, though. Everything was on that table back in Feb. when the book sale was there. *Everything*. I couldn't carry enough bags to rescue 'em all. ;_;

ArrogantWorm said...

-It also doesn't help, that the few times I've tried to donate books, they put them in a box to figure out later if they want them or not. Perfectly acceptable, interesting books that I know they've no duplicates to! I once tried to give a pristine Animorphs collection to my local library back in high school, somewhere around thirty books all together at the time to a library, and they said they didn't want them/couldn't use them. What the library personel don't want (and that would be everything I've ever tried to give them) they stick in a 'for sale' box next to the door, or on the for sale shelf they sometimes use. If I stuck those books in a garage sale for a nickel they would've given more joy to people, I'm sure of it. Actually a bit ticked at the libraries. For places that get large funding cuts, they sure don't seem interested in the books being donated.