1.09.2013

things i heard at the library: an occasional series: # 7

I must preface this post with a statement. If you aren't a regular wmtc reader, if you've stumbled on this post without knowing anything about my views: I am a fierce proponent of free speech, and I am passionately committed to intellectual freedom.

Once, discussing my opposition to capital punishment, someone asked me, "Even for George Bush?" And I thought, you don't know me very well, do you? I'd give my eye teeth to see a POTUS - former or sitting - stand trial for war crimes. I'd dance in the streets as he were sentenced to life behind bars, his wealth distributed to survivors as partial restitution. But if he were sentenced to death, I would protest.

My commitment to intellectual freedom is along those lines. If I am bothered by a book in the library, that doesn't mean I want it removed from the collection or banned from publication.

So that's out of the way.

For the past few weeks, I've been working as a page in one of the system's branch libraries, so I'm seeing not only children's books now, but a full spectrum of books for adults, youth, and children. And certain books really irritate me. I cringe as I pass them on the shelf, or worse, as I shelve them - which means someone has recently borrowed them.

Discussions about intellectual freedom in the library usually focus on controversial material, especially concepts that are known to be false or harmful - anti-reason books about so-called "intelligent design", anti-Semitic propaganda, outdated children's books bristling with racism. In some communities, librarians regularly defend keeping The Communist Manifesto or A People's History of the United States on the shelves.

Alternative theories of creation are catalogued in religion, where they belong. And as far as I'm concerned, you can never have too many political ideas in the collection. What ends up bothering me is much more mundane. Diet books promising 30 days to a "new you". Books on how to look younger. Or a book that combines the two, announcing that the path to longevity is starvation. (I kid you not.) Get-rich-quick schemes. How to become a millionaire next year. How to make your fortune in real estate. Top tips Wall Street doesn't want you to know.

Books that reinforce the traps, the treadmills, the dead-ends of consumerism.

Books that exploit our insecurities, that reinforce personal envy and dissatisfaction.

Books that sell a "system" for attaining happiness - happiness defined by material wealth and commercially-approved beauty, a system which of course begins with buying this book. Snake-oil salesmen in book format.

Could we file these under Fiction?

13 comments:

johngoldfine said...

I'm with you on book censorship and free speech. (Even on Dubya, though sometimes that's a bit closer call.)

Someone has to decide which books to buy for the library, and budgets only stretch so far, so then the question is, I imagine, whether to offer readers the literary equivalent of candy or of spinach or what mixture of the two.

No point buying 'good' books no one wants to read, but something queasy-making about buying books that will do no one any good....

I sure don't have an answer.

But I get angry every time I buy a used book that has been de-accessioned from some public library. Once you have the damn book, you should not get rid of it! You can't make that judgment! Store it in NJ if you have to, as NYC is struggling to do, but never ever say it's not worth keeping forever.

Or is my hoarding tendency peeping through?

:)

James Redekop said...

Don't file them under Fiction: Fiction should at least be true-to-life in some way.

File them under Fraud.

laura k said...

Don't file them under Fiction: Fiction should at least be true-to-life in some way.

File them under Fraud.


Excellent! 364 Crime and Criminology?

laura k said...

But I get angry every time I buy a used book that has been de-accessioned from some public library. Once you have the damn book, you should not get rid of it! You can't make that judgment! Store it in NJ if you have to, as NYC is struggling to do, but never ever say it's not worth keeping forever.

OK, I guess you're kidding. Most books you see in used book sales have been weeded, but not necessarily deselected.

That book itself - the one copy you're holding - has been withdrawn, but not necessarily the title. Instead of having 12 copies of an old book, the library will weed 10 copies in bad condition and keep 2.

Books are deselected, but that's a bigger decision. If no one has read it in 10 years, maybe the next person who wants it has to look for it used online.

Candy vs spinach isn't too much of a problem - it's a combination of the two, leaning towards candy.

John F said...

I used to frequent a used book store in the trackless wastes* of British Columbia. The owner kept one copy of Dianetics on hand so he could shelve it with the rest of the fiction.

*Kamloops

laura k said...

Ha, excellent. Scientology people are notorious for dropping off cartons of books at public libraries, hoping to get them on the shelves. That's one reason libraries have policies against acquisition through donation.

johngoldfine said...

Not really kidding, I'm, afraid. I know a local library that for years had Joanna but had dumped all its dusty boring old Anthony Trollope.

When I get a used book originally from the Podunk County Library, pop. 3267, in the far corner of empty Nebraska, I doubt it's a duplicate copy.

laura k said...

Yeah, probably not (although you're creating a fictional scenario, so it can just as easily be a duplicate copy). But why should the Podunk Public Library spend precious funds and space on something no one has requested in however many years?

I'm not defending every choice made by every librarian in North America, that would be absurd. But if you want to read Trollope, there are no shortage of places to find his work, including for free online.

Space and funds are finite and much more limited than potential material to carry. Storage space is completely out of the question for most libraries. Funds have to be used on services that customers use.

laura k said...

Once you have the damn book, you should not get rid of it! You can't make that judgment! Store it in NJ if you have to, as NYC is struggling to do, but never ever say it's not worth keeping forever.

Or is my hoarding tendency peeping through?

:)


And you're telling me this part was not joking. And if I had taken it seriously and responded in kind, you would not have then said, I was only joking. Yeah.

rww said...

I would argue it is better to have a book in a used book store than stored in a warehouse forever where nobody will ever read it. The book might be free but the space isn't.

laura k said...

Rww, well said.

The warehouse space in NJ that johngoldfine refers to is not for an ordinary collection. The New York Public Library is moving some special collections, used only by specialist scholars, into an off-site area. Those materials will be available by request within a day or two days.

Moving these special collections, used by a few hundred people, frees up a huge amount of space for materials used by thousands and tens of thousands.

This is a very special circumstance. For most libraries, storage space is completely out of the question - not an option.

deang said...

On the subject of certain library books not being checked out in years, one thing I have missed since the demise of the due-date stamps in libraries is being able to see when the book was last checked out. I loved being to see that I was the first to check out a book in, say, three years.

laura k said...

I used to like that, too! It was part of the communal nature of the library, reading a book that so many other people had read, with the visible proof of others' borrowing it.

Would you believe, I still sometimes almost say "card catalog" instead of "catalog". I'm just used to thinking of the library catalog as a card catalog, even though there haven't been cards in so many years.