Monday, January 8, 2007

Should libraries ditch the classics?

Mike at Techdirt asks this disturbing question in response to all the uproar about Fairfax County's weeding. Somehow, "should libraries ditch the classics" seems to turn into "should we ditch libraries?" It's not enjoyable reading, but librarians should pay attention to the comments -- we're dealing with perception as well as reality (if there's a difference).

Mike states: "It would really be great if libraries could set themselves up as guardians of an intellectual inheritance, but if no one cares about that inheritance, it's difficult to see how that helps very much."

In fact, most of us are dancing the line between "give 'em what they need" and "give 'em what they want." We try to do both, as well as we can. We know if we just had the classics, many of our libraries would become as little used as people think we are. We know if we just had popular media, we'd marginalize our own value.

But although our library circulates lots of DVDs, we're no competition for Blockbuster. We balance the limited copies of high demand titles with unique items you can't find elsewhere. But we fight the problem of perception.


Gillian said...

As a librarian in small town VA I can say that not all of us are weeding the classics. Ours are actually being read, and our pop movies are being watched. In places where there are no bookstores or video rental stores libraries serve even more purposes, as we are all there is. But we still have the classics and the scholarly materials, and it does get used.

Terry Dawson said...

Yep, ours are getting used too. I think it becomes more problematic in large, multi-branch libraries, where with space considerations, not every library can have every title. And there's no denying weeding is an important part of collection development -- but it's usually the bestsellers of 20 years ago that are getting pulled out before the classics are.