Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Season of Lost Libraries

If you've been reading my blog regularly these last few months, you know that I've been weeding books from my personal library.  Some people have asked why I don't donate these books to our school's library.

Alas, space is limited there, and soon to be more limited.  It's time to weed those books too.  Yesterday, I went to get an overview of what's there and what will need to go.

Some of the decisions will be easy.  There are old textbooks and old manuals about software that no one uses anymore.  There are books that haven't been checked out since the early years of this century.

Many of the items in the Literature section leave me shaking my head and wondering how we came to have these items.  The Complete Plays of Henry James?  Can you even name one play?  Me neither.

We have never been the kind of school that taught the classical works of literature.  We don't do survey courses.  How did we come to have these books?

I'm told that during an accreditation visit that happened before my time, we were told we needed more books in the General Education sections.  And so, we have many novels written by Dickens, even though no one reads them.  The Anne Rice novels haven't been checked out in years, so you know that students aren't turning to Dickens for consolation.

We will be losing roughly half of our library space in the building remodel and move.  It's hard to justify keeping many of the books in our Literature section.

I will even be arguing that we abandon the dictionaries and thesauruses.  It's easy enough to get these resources online.  Why devote precious shelf space to them?

As I've been sorting my own books, I've been struck by how many I bought because I wanted to make sure I had access to the knowledge.  Once I thought I could rely on public libraries and school libraries.  Now, I've seen what happens when space constricts and budgets tighten.

But still, I've let books leave my shelves because I have been assuming I have access to that knowledge online.  Why should I store it on paper on shelves?

I do wonder if 20 years from now I'll know the answer to that question.  Right now, I have fairly unrestricted access to the Internet--will that always be the case?  Right now, storage space feels unlimited online--will there come a time where we need to dump data to make room for more?

I feel sorrow over these books that will be lost and not just for the books, although I do love books as physical objects.  We've spent a lot of money on these books, on shelving, on all sorts of tangential items.  Someone chose these books, and while the reasons aren't always immediately obvious, the dismantling still makes me feel a deep grief.

I know that dismantling one dream often makes room for other dreams.  I'm losing books from my personal library, but it means I can move to a house that's closer to what I want.  When the school library moved to its current location, I mourned the loss of the old location, with its view of the Ft. Lauderdale skyline.  But the new library feels more spacious, even though it's smaller.  I feel a sense of well being expand with each breath every time I go to the library.  Maybe I'll come to feel an affection for the new library too.

Still, I'm aware of my history, aware that great civilizations have fallen as they've lost their libraries.  I'm trying not to read too much symbolism into what may simply be decisions about efficiency and space.


Di said...

I've been thinking about this, too. (In fact, as my own tiny way of pushing pack, I picked up-- funny parallel-- Great Expectations a week ago.)

In addition to everything else, I think of how quickly technology changes, and how ephemeral the internet is, and I wonder how much will be lost because it's a transient medium.

Maureen said...

We in the U.S. are so lucky to have books to cull and give away. There are organizations that accept used books for distribution abroad, where books are hard to come by and access via current technology nonexistent.