Friday, May 28, 2004

Library books as ideas and the weeding of same

I often think about the wealth of knowledge kept for the generations by the libraries of the world. Ideas become weapons and motivate some countries and some regimes to raid the libraries, and to incarcerate librarians. Cuba has done this lately. You would think that by now it would be generally known that draconian measures cannot prevail against ideas, and that print (paper or electronic) will circulate faster in this era than ever before. That's the big concern of every library association: how to keep the books circulating while safeguarding the freedom of each patron to read whatever is available without leaving a trail of identifying information.

Moreover it is important to keep in mind (on a more local scale) that weeding can be dangerous if the criteria used are simply "has this circulated in ten years" or "do we have room." At present, space is as short as funding for most libraries, academic libraries included, and there has been the temptation in some places to simply weed "the old stuff." Luckily, the saner view has prevailed in the cases I have seen. Just because a book has no astounding monetary value doesn't mean it isn't rare, and someone might have a need to read just the volume you are holding trying to decide if it goes out the door or if you keep it. The frenzy over electronic databases and full text sources hasn't lessened the value of our book collections. Although libraries certainly have embraced the electronic age, there is still value in the print holdings. How often has the "system been down" or the vendor no longer offered that periodical your patrons suddenly need.

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