A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

GAAAAH! A Bibliophile's NIGHTMARE!

As I sit surrounded by my piles of books taking up every spare inch of space living room furniture, I come across THIS incomprehensible story from Faifax, Virginia:
You can't find "Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings" at the Pohick Regional Library anymore. Or "The Education of Henry Adams" at Sherwood Regional. Want Emily Dickinson's "Final Harvest"? Don't look to the Kingstowne branch.

It's not that the books are checked out. They're just gone. No one was reading them, so librarians took them off the shelves and dumped them.

Linda Schlekau, manager of Woodrow Wilson library in Fairfax County, says she discards about 700 books a month.

Along with those classics, thousands of novels and nonfiction works have been eliminated from the Fairfax County collection after a new computer software program showed that no one had checked them out in at least 24 months.

Public libraries have always weeded out old or unpopular books to make way for newer titles. But the region's largest library system is taking turnover to a new level.

Like Borders and Barnes & Noble, Fairfax is responding aggressively to market preferences, calculating the system's return on its investment by each foot of space on the library shelves -- and figuring out which products will generate the biggest buzz. So books that people actually want are easy to find, but many books that no one is reading are gone -- even if they are classics.

"We're being very ruthless," said Sam Clay, director of the 21-branch system since 1982. "A book is not forever. If you have 40 feet of shelf space taken up by books on tulips and you find that only one is checked out, that's a cost."

Books on the Chopping Block in Fairfax
The following books have been weeded from the shelves of various branches of the Fairfax County Public Library system or haven't been checked out in 24 months and could be discarded. In parentheses are the branches where the books are endangered. The same title might be available at another branch.
The Works of Aristotle, Aristotle (Centreville)
Sexual Politics, Kate Millett (Centreville)
The Great Philosophers, Karl Jaspers (Centreville)
Carry Me Home, Diane McWhorter (Centreville)
The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner (George Mason Regional)
The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy (George Mason Regional)
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway (George Mason Regional)
Desolation Angels, Jack Kerouac (George Mason Regional)
Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak (George Mason Regional)
Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust (George Mason Regional)
Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well, Maya Angelou (Chantilly Regional)
The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams (Chantilly Regional)
Writings, Gertrude Stein (Chantilly Regional)
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (Chantilly Regional)
Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe (Chantilly Regional)
Great Issues in American History, Richard Hofstadter (Chantilly Regional)
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein (Chantilly Regional)
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Pohick Regional)
Babylon Revisited: And other stories, F. Scott Fitzgerald (Reston Regional)
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (Reston Regional)
The Aeneid, Virgil (Sherwood Regional)
The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot (Fairfax City Regional)


What does it say about me that I actually own several of these books?

Now, look, I'll admit that George Eliot is not everyone's cup o'tea, William Faulkner never been one of my favorites-- I'm much more a Eudora Welty kind of gal (my sister is just like Stella-Rondo), and as a history teacher, I personally am quite fond of the Hofstadter works and even have them on my shelves, but.... Aristotle? Hemingway?? Bronte??? Harper LEE???????

Three questions pop to mind:
1. Are these librarians nuts-- who has "40 feet of shelfspace devoted to tulips?", and
2. Who are the people who patronize these libraries?
3. "Pohick regional??" It's too good to be true! Hahahahaha!

Just because a book is not checked out does not mean it hasn't been used by a patron in the library. Further, this practice becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because as people who would want these kinds of books realize that they are not on the shelves, they will stop coming to the library altogether.

Eventually, no thinking person will go to the library. At least in Fairfax.

18 Comments:

At 1/3/07, 7:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard about this on the radio yesterday. It's so sad. They say they're doing it for "cost" measures. But wouldn't it be cheaper to leave the classics on the shelves rather than go out and buy EVERY book that hits the 50 best seller.

 
At 1/3/07, 11:32 AM, Anonymous Dana Huff said...

That's insane! I agree with Aisby, too. But I have to say that I love William Faulkner. "A Rose for Emily" is wonderful.

 
At 1/3/07, 12:07 PM, Anonymous Denise V. said...

We were so disturbed here in Gwinnett County, GA, by the same trend of purging the classics described in the Washington Post that we pulled out old library records, started a website www.gcplwatch.org and complained at the top of our lungs until the library director was finally fired. Now, thanks to a library board willing to buck the trend, we're returning to "a more traditional library." Hallelujah!

 
At 1/3/07, 1:26 PM, Anonymous mrschili said...

YIKES! Seriously!?

My only thought - and it's foolishly hopeful - is that so many people OWN these books (I, personally, have seven) they don't need to check them out of the library. Of course, I'm a geeky English teacher, so my take on issues concerning books shouldn't ever be used as a baseline....

 
At 1/3/07, 4:12 PM, Anonymous fredthefish said...

Our school librarian has been dumping books that aren't checked out...even though many of them are repeatedly used in research projects and aren't allowed to be checked out. (The departments ask for a hold so that all students can access them.)
It's not just classics that are under the gun, it's anything that isn't in the Amazon Top 10 list. I guess that means Davinci Code is safe.

 
At 1/3/07, 4:54 PM, Anonymous Mike said...

Hardly surprising. Distressing? Yes, and for all the right reasons. What might be even more distressing is to discover what is now taking up the space formerly accorded to Aristotle and the others who, until we became oh so politically correct and enlightened, made up the canon of great literature and philosophical thought.

"Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

 
At 1/3/07, 6:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ARGH!!! What a nightmare! And a travesty! (And yes, I own many of the books being dumped.) The classics are so important, and can be so enjoyed, that this is beyond shameful!

 
At 1/3/07, 6:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have the absolute best local library I can imagine. Our librarians would lie down in the aisles and block anybody from doing anything like this with their own bodies! UNREAL!

And I'll bet that same library has 50-odd copies of crap like the so-called "books" by folks like Coulter, Hannity, Savage, Beck, Limbaugh, and rest of the brain-rotted crowd.

 
At 1/3/07, 9:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, this seems like a bad blend of deconstruction and free-market capitalism. The classics are no longer considered "universal" (or, by extension, essential), and priority is given to that which sells.

I'm alarmed that any librarian would agree to dump these books. You'd think that librarians, of all people, would see through the bestseller list. Do the library schools have anything to do with this?

 
At 1/3/07, 9:44 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

And I was freaked out by the image of these books being "purged" and all that that word connotes.

They could make the argument that a lot of these books may be online, like on bartleby.com. But what is the point of going to the library?

And Denise v., your community is my kind of people.

Now I understand wanting to check out, and not purchase, the latest trashy potboiler. But if that's all a library is, then that is a travesty.

 
At 1/4/07, 7:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a matter of relevance -- do the taxpayers want a library or a museuem of books?

 
At 1/4/07, 1:12 PM, Anonymous Shelley Batts said...

The weird thing is, so many of those books were required reading at my highschool. And more than a few are considered some the the pillars of literature. These people should be ashamed to call themselves librarians!

 
At 1/4/07, 4:22 PM, Anonymous Polski3 said...

So, anything not used regularly is to be tossed? In some circles, this could be an interesting trend....

In college, I used three - four libraries for research.....our great public library, the community college library, a university extendion campus library and the library on the main campus of the university. For the History projects I was researching, OLD was good.

 
At 1/4/07, 5:13 PM, Anonymous Wayne Martin said...

A Washington Post article claims that customers can't find various “classics” in some of the local libraries in Fairfax County, VA, such as: "Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings", "The Education of Henry Adams", or Emily Dickinson's "Final Harvest". The libraries have been using their library inventory software to keep track of “low circulators”, which they are removing from the shelves of some of their libraries.

Well, these books can be obtained on-line at a couple of locations:

http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC04731995&id=vq1LywH3-SkC&pg=PA1&lpg=PA1&dq=Abraham+Lincoln:+His+Speeches+and+Writings&as_brr=1
"The Education of Henry Adams"
http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC70394769&id=qF8WAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA1&lpg=PA1&dq=The+Education+of+Henry+Adams&as_brr=1#PPP12,M1


Emily Dickinson's "Final Harvest":
(Purchase prices start at $0.78)
http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0316184152/ref=dp_olp_2/104-5018890-4807947

The following list of books being culled seems to have emerged:

Books on the Chopping Block in Fairfax
The following books have been weeded from the shelves of various branches of the Fairfax County Public Library system or haven't been checked out in 24 months and could be discarded. In parentheses are the branches where the books are endangered. The same title might be available at another branch.
The Works of Aristotle, Aristotle (Centreville)
Sexual Politics, Kate Millett (Centreville)
The Great Philosophers, Karl Jaspers (Centreville)
Carry Me Home, Diane McWhorter (Centreville)
The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner (George Mason Regional)
The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy (George Mason Regional)
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway (George Mason Regional)
Desolation Angels, Jack Kerouac (George Mason Regional)
Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak (George Mason Regional)
Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust (George Mason Regional)
Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well, Maya Angelou (Chantilly Regional)
The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams (Chantilly Regional)
Writings, Gertrude Stein (Chantilly Regional)
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (Chantilly Regional)
Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe (Chantilly Regional)
Great Issues in American History, Richard Hofstadter (Chantilly Regional)
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein (Chantilly Regional)
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Pohick Regional)
Babylon Revisited: And other stories, F. Scott Fitzgerald (Reston Regional)
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (Reston Regional)
The Aeneid, Virgil (Sherwood Regional)
The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot (Fairfax City Regional)
----

A quick review of the list indicates that about 20% of these books are out-of-copyright, and likely to be found on on-line sources now, or soon. The rest, it would seem, are not being checked out, so why shouldn’t they be moved to off-site-storage, or the library’s catalog be updated to provide links to the on-line sources?
The Fairfax library should be complimented for their intelligent use of resources.

 
At 1/4/07, 6:14 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Wayne-- the point is that many people who use the library do so because they either can't or won't buy the book. And not everyone has a computer. The poorest people in the country are also the least likely to download a book.

The E-reader is a technology that has too steep a price. I certainly wouldn't buy one at nearly 400 smackers, and I am a member of the middle class.

 
At 1/5/07, 12:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If all the people getting their panties in a snit would just look in the Fairfax County catalog and search for these titles, they would find that there are multiple copies of them available, ready for the taking. Go and get them! They are waiting for you! No one is stopping you from checking them out.

The article and many readers jumped to the conclusion that all classics are being discarded to make way for drivel. Nonsense. "Weeding" is a standard practice. As it pertains to particular titles, likely they show up on a "list" of items not checked out because the library has met the demand with multiple copies, so little used copies can be moved aside to make room on the shelves. This happens across the board - old health books, for example, are weeded to make room for current information.

If the library has plenty of copies of the titles in question to meed customer demand, what is the big deal? I just don't get the big hullabaloo...

 
At 1/5/07, 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If all the people getting their panties in a snit would just look in the Fairfax County catalog and search for these titles, they would find that there are multiple copies of them available, ready for the taking. Go and get them! They are waiting for you! No one is stopping you from checking them out.

The article and many readers jumped to the conclusion that all classics are being discarded to make way for drivel. Nonesense. "Weeding" is a standard practice. As it pertains to particular titles, likely they show up on a "list" of items not checked out because the library has met the demand with multiple copies, so little used copies can be moved aside to make room on the shelves. This happens across the board - old health books, for example, are weeded to make room for current information.

 
At 1/6/07, 3:39 PM, Anonymous Jon Swift said...

I say good riddance to all those tulip books!

 

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