Friday, January 05, 2007

Libraries' Weeding of Collections

To those of you who have come here via JenClair's entry on Garden in the Pocket, welcome and thank you, JenClair.

I don't want to beat a dead issue, with regard to the Washington Post article about Fairfax County Library System's weeding policies. But there is one (perhaps obvious) point that I feel compelled to make.

Common sense should tell any library patron that it's a necessity for libraries to weed their collections; when you run out of shelf space, you have to do something with the surplus books, preferably the ones that are being used with the least frequency. It's not a judgement on the quality of those texts; it's a judgement of how best to allocate space and shelving. Christine explains the professional practice very well.

Libraries can only provide a finite set of services and they are currently expected to do a great deal these days with regard to electronic resources, computers, etc. The money only stretches so far and a public library has to serve every single one of its constituents, whatever their circumstances. Most libraries are expected to provide materials to a wide variety of patrons and they have to do so with a finite and generally shrinking set of resources (ie. money, time, space, and patience). As Maud Newton learned. Imagine what it takes to support a library user population like the one described in this article.

As the Director of Fairfax Libraries himself points out, a library system doesn't discard every copy of Hemingway it owns, when it weeds things out. They have 108 copies of Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls in various formats, including audio-cassette and Large Print. It isn't just a case of the library only providing the standard print; a modern public library has to carry the work in multiple forms so that the senior citizen who needs Large Print can get it as easily as the daily commuter who wants to listen to the book while driving to and from work. That "reliable lexicon" that the Wall Street Journal thinks is needed? The libraries are working that angle as well, even while they're being chastised for being "welfare programs for middle-class readers who would rather borrow Nelson DeMille's newest potboiler than spend a few dollars for it at their local Wal-Mart". Sheesh, WSJ!

No one is saying that it's more important to have Grisham than Hemingway. But they do have to make sure that they have both authors in as many formats as may be economically feasible. Because patrons expect libraries to have books, DVDs, books-on-tape, electronic databases, and everything other format known to mankind. God bless this woman for her effort, but it really is just not this simple. Because it will be the citizen who can't get Grisham (in one of the aforementioned preferred formats) who will complain most loudly about the quality of library services to the county supervisor who serves as the liaison to the Library System. The mother who can't get the references needed for her child's report on transportation in Colonial America will write to the local paper. Even a small failure corrodes support for funding. And no library, even those in the wealthy Fairfax Country system, can afford to let that happen.

These are professionals! They know what they're doing. Hemingway, Aristotle and Bronte are in absolutely no danger.

(I may get irritated by some of the people in my professional community, but I'll stand up for 'em!) Now, I'm going to go hear more from Drusilla Clack in The Moonstone. I *love* this book.