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Friday, January 05, 2007

The Commercialism of the Local Library

In a new cost-savings measure the local libraries of Fairfax county, Virginia are using computers to target books which have not been circulating in the last two years. One of the victims of this 'purge' which has taken a heavy toll on classic literature, is Jane Eyre:

The Fairfax libraries are now using new computer software programs to identify titles that have not been checked out in 24 months. Victims, to date, include the speeches and writings of Abraham Lincoln, The Education of Henry Adams, poems of Emily Dickinson, and, according to the Washington Post's Lisa Rein, "thousands of novels and nonfiction works" that were swept up in the computer vacuuming.

Other books that 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 include: The Works of Aristotle, The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, and The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams.

Other selections expunged from various branch libraries are Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and Virgil's The Aeneid.

Among the more contemporary authors excluded from some libraries are the likes of Kate Millett, Jack Kerouac, and Maya Angelou.

The top 25 books checked out in December, from Fairfax County libraries, were best-sellers by John Grisham, David Baldacci, James Patterson, Nelson DeMille, Stephen King and Alice McDermott, among others. Most are entertaining, but only a few will be considered classics in 25 years.

I have mentioned here before that the school board in my hometown (in southern Ontario) had a policy of destroying books which had not circulated in the last four years. The librarians covertly ignored or otherwise circumvented these rules. They were appalled, but also had practical reasons for not complying. Circulation of books in these libraries does not rely on interest alone. Knowing that bookstores are increasingly slashing their stock (Chapters cut 3 000 titles from their catalogue this year while they have all but obliterated independent bookstores across the country where readers might otherwise obtain the books they want), it is especially alarming to hear that another venue for reading less popular works might be closing. Remember my quest to find a copy of Agnes Grey? I eventually had to order it online. It was not in the library system for the entire county- and my hometown, while not a major city, is still larger than Halifax which is a provincial capital! None of the bookstores carried it: neither Chapters nor the poor remnants we have of second-hand and independent shops.

What if I had been unable to afford such a luxury? What if I had not been computer literate?


Anonymous said...

Glad you are getting settled and back to blogging - I have missed you - in your moves . . .

It is sad indeed that libraries are forced to bow to popular culture - I first read Jane when I was in high school and it was required that I "pick" from a list of english classics . . . but it's been one of my favorite books ever since. Any Library that removes it from their shelves is stupid, indeed . . .

I'm glad to share that both my daughers have read and enjoyed it since (ages 25 and 17) - - -

happy new year friend,


Anonymous said...

It's getting to the point where, if I see one of these classic books in a bookstore and don't own it yet, I snap it up immediately, for fear it will never be there again. When I saw Agnes Grey at Borders just a few weeks after reading your Search for Agnes Grey post, I got bought it at once, at recently did the same with The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

ChrisV said...

Destroying uncirculated books?? So odd...its like some sick form of retribution...I can just picture some board member stomping on a poor helpless book..."dare to take up room on our shelves, eh?? Well, no one likes you so you must pay!!" (stomp, stomp, stomp)

Glaukôpis said...

Ok, LJ randomly coughed up this old post of yours! :-P

But anyway, I remember being insulted that Agnes Grey wasn't at our Borders. I bugged a manager to lemme order it for the shelves, and we finally did. Not sure it ever actually sold, though. :-P

But that's another thing. Borders, at least (and I think B&N in the U.S. too), *can* order a lot of the books it doesn't bother to carry. Not sure about Chapters.