Every once in a while I get a comment that I can’t resist responding to. Here’s one from my last post that’s just too much:
I’ve followed your posts about weeding for quite a while, and I think you’re incredibly arrogant about the task. No one says that libraries have to keep everything, but when research libraries like UCLA are tossing pre-1980 humanities books like it’s Christmas in July then there’s a problem somewhere.
Why are you folks so gleeful about it, and worse, do you have any idea the kind of contempt people will have for you in 75 or 100 years, knowing how much you’ve discarded?
Laugh if you want, but it’s true. This is a terrifically destructive age.
Laugh if I want? I want.
First of all, this comment was in response to a post about weeding school libraries, and it wasn’t really even about that, so I have a feeling the author saw “weeding” in the title and jumped down to the comments to complain. It’s as if the entire post got weeded in order to make room for the comments.
Secondly, maybe I am arrogant about the task, or maybe I just present hard truths that non-librarians don’t like and talk about necessary decisions that non-librarians often refuse to make. Try to get faculty to make weeding decisions and the books would just be piled up in the aisles until no one could even get to them anymore.
Thirdly, are all, or even most, research libraries “tossing pre-1980 humanities books like it’s Christmas in July”? Has a last copy of any book ever been removed from the last library that owned it? Aren’t there still plenty of libraries to lend pre-1980 humanities books?
Also, wouldn’t “Christmas in July” mean getting gifts rather than throwing away things? Thus, they’re receiving books like it’s Christmas in July? Wouldn’t the opposite be something like “spring cleaning in the fall”?
Fourthly, who’s gleeful? My point in these various posts has usually been that weeding has to be done at most libraries, usually because the libraries are still buying books but aren’t expanding their buildings.
Choices have to be made, and it doesn’t help when irrational people see a dumpster full of old books and assume the barbarians have stormed the gates and are toppling high culture from within.
Librarians are caught in a dilemma: they’re forced to make decisions by people who won’t make the decisions themselves, and then they’re damned whatever decision they make.
Fifthly, in 75 to 100 years the books currently available in academic libraries will all have been archived and most made available through the Hathi Trust or Project Gutenberg or Google or whatever replaces them. Instead of “contempt,” library patrons of the future will marvel at how farsighted and tenacious libraries have been in digitally archiving material in the face of author and publisher resistance.
Sixthly, this comment mistakenly assumes that anything is ultimately discarded. Just because UCLA or your library of choice is getting rid of books doesn’t mean those books aren’t around. The books are around, and they’ll be around in 100 years, just maybe not at UCLA.
Seventhly, I’ll laugh if I want, because it’s not true, if “it” means the destruction of anything like the last copy of any book available in libraries. UCLA isn’t the Library of Alexandria, and weeding it won’t bring on the dark ages.
I looked it up, and the Association of Research Libraries has 125 members. This comment provides one example from those 125 members that is supposedly being “terrifically destructive.” Find us 124 more, or 100, or even 50. One example doesn’t make a crisis or a trend. It just makes a shoddy news story.
When the Library of Congress, or Harvard, or Stanford, or the New York Public Library starts throwing away most of their books, THEN we’ll have a crisis. Let us know when that happens and I’ll definitely write a sternly critical blog post about it.