Monday, October 1, 2018

The case of the disappearing library books

Ed. here. Walt returned early this morning from a tear through les Cantons de l'Est du Québec in the company... dangerous company... of Poor Len Canayen. He dropped on my desk a sheaf of scribbled notes which is going to take me some time to decipher. While you wait, here's something to think about....

Have you visited your local public library lately? If so, did you find any new books to read? I know new books are being written, for I see reviews in any number of publications, excluding the New York Times Review of Books, which I never read. And one could, if one were rich, buy them online. (Finding a bricks-and-mortar book store would be more difficult.) But the selection of new books in our public libraries becomes smaller by the week. I asked a librarian last week, "Have you stopped buying books?" Her dismaying reply was "No. It just looks like it."

At the library to which I refer (not "reference"!), the space formerly given to displays of new books has been turned over to displays of low-brow fiction, e.g. the latest works of Danielle Steele, and of new CDs and DVDs. Books, particularly non-fiction, seem to be on the way out. Print isn't dead. It's just not being made as readily available to the public.

I thought at first this saddening phenomenon might be peculiar to out-of-the-way places like Fort Mudge, but complaints are emanating from other, larger burgs. A WWW reader from Idaho sent us the Letters page of the Wall Street Journal of 7/9/18, with a letter from Nicholas A. Vlisides, of Northville MI, highlighted. Mr Vlisides writes:

As a full-time lecturere at a local university in Michigan, I can confirm Danny Heitman's lament on the elimination of books in libraries ("Don't Close the Book on Books", op-ed, Aug. 30). Last year, to my surprise and dismay, I entered our library in search of texts on economics and found half the shelves empty. When I asked what had happened, the librarian told me that the facility was undertaking a program to eliminate all the books that had not been "checked out" in a long time. Books written by Galbraith, Friedman and Sanuelson were missing. Further, I was told that the same procedure was being undertaken for literature, music, science, philosophy and more. I was keenly saddened and voiced my opinion that books need not be sacrificed for technology, but it was too late.

The elimination of books for internet research is a Faustian bargein and I am sorry for those who may never know the pleasure in the discovery of a book not cited by an internet source. I'm reminded of a Mark Twain quote: "The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read." Internet literacy isn't a substitute for book knowledge, and our society is the poorer for it.

Well said, sir! I trust you have made your opinion known to your local library board, and encourage Walt's readers to do the same.

Footnote: I hope readers will appreciate my self-restraint in not making a pun involving a two-syllable word for a piece of furniture in which books are kept.

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