Book burning, deaccessioning, and all the hatred

17 Oct

The background to this post is found over at Annoyed Librarian, and Cracked’s article on why we’re in a book-burning period of history.  You don’t need to read it, but I recommend that you do.

I read the latter article late last week, and AL’s this morning.  I like Annoyed’s writing and don’t take it too seriously, so I found myself nodding in agreement as I went through her very kind rebuttal.  I found myself shaking my head at the comments on Cracked’s article.  Cracked is a site I enjoy in my off-time, its wit bringing a dose of hard-bitten ire or misanthropy to my day.  It’s a shame the readers are such fools.

I don’t say that lightly.  But their comments are, by and large, clearly from the perspective of someone who’s never had to work in a library or deal with excess stock.  Books are treasures, and I am a person who will hold out against e-readers for the foreseeable future (or until I need large print books).  But saving every book because it’s a book, because it’s old, or because it might be worth something, is idiotic.  The library is in fact a type of business, albeit a non-profit and publicly funded one.  Well, technically public libraries are government organizations, but they run more like businesses…so if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, I’ll call it a duck regardless of nomenclature.  The readers of Cracked don’t seem to grasp that as they complain about noise level, or lost books, or weeding, they also demand more hotspots for their phones, free Wi-Fi, subscriptions, and an ever-evolving presence on the internet so they don’t have to come to the library itself.  You cannot demand both left and right simultaneously.

Perhaps it’s our profession at fault: have we done ourselves a disservice by encouraging a certain view historically, that minimized the fact libraries are susceptible to politics and government?  Was it a defense, where we endeavored to convince others we were independently valuable and that we were not at the mercy of government, so if need be the public would be outraged at meddling by politicians?  I don’t know, but I suspect the answer is at least partly “yes.”  When you create an ideal and then don’t live up to it (as no organization can), there’s outcry and indignation.

I understand what the readers at Cracked, and many library patrons around the world, feel when they discover items have been weeded.  But the point remains that librarians, archivists, and curators of collections, need to make decisions based on the needs of the whole, with input from the whole, and with a degree of professional knowledge developed by training in subject matter.  That’s what makes librarians, archivists, and curators, uniquely qualified to decide which books to deaccession, and our love of knowledge transcends a single volume.  We take the biggest picture possible: if it’s preserved out there in a format of some kind, and the current format isn’t inherently valuable (think Gutenberg Bible format), then we have done our duty to information and we must make way for new ideas and exchange.

So I toss the question to you all: what do you think of weeding?  What do you think patrons think of it, and what would be the best practice?

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One Response to “Book burning, deaccessioning, and all the hatred”

  1. Corban Saezer October 17, 2011 at 14:01 #

    Weeding is when two goods create a bad: where an voluminous library, and a need to maximize space utility, collide in limited space. This is an alley that no one wishes to be in, because it rarely ends well. The answer is not to be in this alley.

    But who pulls you out? The library cannot wish for more money. People could wish for fewer coffee tables. The way I use my local library is this: Someone recommends a book, and I see if it’s in the library. If so, odds are 90% that I’ll put a hold on it. I am in and out quite fast.

    In a way, I am part of the solution and the problem: I strongly utilize the core functions of the library, and my needs are slim. At the same time, I do have a strong bias for recent publications. The stuff I ignore is the stuff that gets thrown out. As a result, 1700’s manuscripts shrivel up and die if guys like me predominate.

    Stay alive! There are at least two people in this world who are still holding out against e-readers!

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