Saturday, January 06, 2007

I prefer the libraries no one uses

The article Washington Post Article Hello, Grisham -- So Long, Hemingway? With Shelf Space Prized, Fairfax Libraries Cull Collections, brings up some interesting points:

"So librarians are making hard decisions and struggling with a new issue: whether the data-driven library of the future should cater to popular tastes or set a cultural standard, even as the demand for the classics wanes."

Oh no! We are getting rid of classic books that are freely available online and copyright free that no one reads unless they are MADE TO! Every so often someone gets all bent out of shape that someone weeds books out of a library. Libraries need to stay relevant as cultural centers, and that means CURRENT cultural centers, not ones found in the 19th century. They should reflect the current culture and more particularly, the current culture of their town. Every library is different because every town and city is different, with different cultures. The only people reading Hemmingway anymore are the Hemmingway fanatics and students who are FORCED to.

Then follows the predictable opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal Checked Out A Washington-area library tosses out the classics.

"And now the bell may toll for Hemingway. A software program developed by SirsiDynix, an Alabama-based library-technology company, informs librarians of which books are circulating and which ones aren't. If titles remain untouched for two years, they may be discarded--permanently. "We're being very ruthless," boasts library director Sam Clay."

I love that some new software is now weeding books, as if libraries never weeded books before. Now this technology is butchering our books, let's just cut all the funding for libraries since they don't carry Hemmingway! We are just Blockbusters and Barnes and Noble anyway. We just have another conservative author wanting to cut funding for "frivolous things" like libraries.

The Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece is concerning. It is concerning how people would prefer not to have libraries at all for some simple reason. That libraries should be dusty old tomes, shushing librarians, and dead silence. If you ask most people, they would STAY AWAY from libraries that looked and acted like that.

The true value is in offering information, reading material, and access. We WANT Americans to read more.

They become more informed which benefits them and our democracy.

If you have a business in town and can't hire workers that can comprehend instructions, you have poor production and accidents on the job. Lower literacy means less competent workers. This deters businesses and hurts the entire community.

The simple act of reading increases intelligence: Reading At Risk:
A Survey of Literary Reading in America Research Division Report #46

"Reading is not a timeless, universal capability. Advanced literacy is a specific intellectual skill and social habit that depends on a great many educational, cultural, and economic factors. As more Americans lose this capability, our nation becomes less informed, active, and independent-minded. These are not qualities that a free, innovative, or productive society can afford to lose."

We need to use whatever techniques we can to encourage people to read. Reading at all is more important than reading the classics. The classics are important, but most people will be exposed to them through formal education. The fact that 58% of Americans do not read after high school is a problem. If it means getting rid of Hemmingway over Grisham, then that is what it takes to keep their attention and keep them reading. That is why libraries are important and why they are free.

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