walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

what should libraries have

Immanence, will she never _stop_? When the kid comes home, or I recover from this nasty cold/bronchitis. When I can talk, I don't feel quite the need to blog. *sigh*


I had this discussion with a friend about what the collection at our library should be, if it were maintained ideally. I've made some provocative remarks on this subject in the past, so I'll just sum up what I've said in person and electronically, since it's all scattered and a lot of it was private anyway:

We should not have books that do not circulate (outside of stuff we don't allow to circulate but is only for in-library use, altho I could see an exception made for stuff that we knew was used in library even if it did not circulate but it would be nice to track that so we actually _knew_). (Does not circulate defined over a period of time, probably not less than two years, and not more than five.) Period. OOOOOOOoooooh. That's just not nice, is it? Here's the rationale.

We have limited space. I mean, seriously. We're hoping to get a bigger library, but realistically, that's 5-10 years in our future, and even then, we will still have limited space. ILL, correctly implemented (which, I am sorry to say, is not the case here, but it could be) gives people access to anything they can identify. Good staff can help people either (a) find what they want within the existing collection (b) get what they want via ILL or (c) acquire what is wanted for the library so that it is available under (a).

For this to work properly, you have to have staff that can help people navigate the collection. Just having some computers lying around does not, to my mind, seem adequate. Good, frequently changing displays are another component but again, kinda passive. But assuming, for the moment, we could reach this ideal, what would the collection look like?

Well, there would be a lot of recent, genre fiction (romance and mystery, but also some SF/Fantasy/Horror/whatever) and a sampling of litcrit, particularly stuff beloved of book groups (think _Reading Lolita in Tehran_ and unimaginable numbers of books about the women depicted in various famous paintings. I shit you not). There would be a decent array of recent non-fiction (some memoirs -- ditto the book group thing; business books; bios; the books mentioned on the Colbert Report and the Daily Show; cookbooks; diet books; travel guide books; history; medical/disease/reference/my story/whatever; public policy issue of the moment; political books/memoirs/bios/exposes; popular science; parenting/child care standards; field guides to nature; etc.).

Since part of the mission of a small town library is books by local authors/about the local area, I'd even be willing to cede considerable shelf space to this mission, even if it meant a huge chunk of them never circulated. Altho, IMO, if the staff were doing their job, they would circulate -- and just owning the books isn't the mission, is it? Otherwise we could just lock them up somewhere and leave them to posterity.

I'm going to carefully leave children's/young adult out of this discussion for now, and that's purely out of ignorance of the area.

Now, I know someone's going to go, hey! I discovered the coolest dang book just browsing along the shelves. It had never been checked out before and was never checked out after but I _loved_ that book! It was amazing! It changed my life!

I'm sure it did. I've had that happen to me repeatedly, recently, while weeding. In some cases, I felt strongly enough about the matter that I checked that sucker out then and there to make sure it wouldn't meet the criteria (of not circulating, among other more subjective things). That's how I read _The Shoes Outside the Door_ and _Through Fire and Water_. The second made a big enough impact on me that I bought a genealogical CD and several other books about Mennonites. So, okay. I hear you. And I still don't think those books belong on the shelves of my small town library.

I read a lot. I love books. I'm amazing at navigating collections of books. And honestly, I'm being modest when I say these things. I could use a lot more superlatives and stay within the realm of plausibility. But every book I read in my life is one or more other books I don't read. Time spending finding a book I want to read is time I'm not reading. For me, that's okay -- playing with books is a major part of the fun in my life. I like moving books around on shelves, for goddess' sake. I'm nuts. But for people who go to the library to find something to read, fail to find anything they want to read -- despite thousands of books being on the shelves, maybe BECAUSE there are thousands of books on the shelves -- that was not necessarily a fun time, and they still don't have in their hands what they went to the library for.

A former boss of mine used to say he'd be running the perfect bookstore if it only had one book in it, but it was the book the customer wanted when she came to the store. That comment used to piss me off, because I was working on getting as much information (books, reviews, etc.) into the catalog that constituted that store as was possible. At the time, I thought he meant, we need better apparatus for getting the customer to the book they want. But now, I think he also meant, the customer should not be forced to make a lot of choices. If you _want_ choices, if the shopping part is the fun, fine. But most customers want what they want when they want it and they don't want to have to decide not-this, not-this, not-this, not-this ad infinitum. And that is _exactly_ the problem with our library.

Anyway, returning to that Ideal Collection. The Ideal Collection would _also_ contain a random array of books on random topics, bought because patrons wanted the book and it was not in the collection or available via ILL (typically because it's too new to be available readily by loan, but other situations are imaginable, like, we could get it via ILL, but it would cost a fair amount and we can buy it super-cheap in good condition used online). And I'd be happy letting that sucker sit on the shelf for other patrons to discover for some period of time.

My friend (remember the friend?) seemed to think the library ought to have books that patrons Should Read. I objected to this on several counts. First off, who is going to decide? And second, if you think people should read it, certainly you can buy it. But you aren't going to _make_ anyone read it by having it on the shelf. It could sit there for a decade or more, unread. How does that accomplish anything? If someone does read it, then it deserves to be there, sure.

But after thinking about it, the problem is considerably worse than that. Given the contents of most forms of The Canon, having books around that people Should Read are likely to aggravate the (Dead) White (European) Male problem. And again, limited space. If having some DWEMs around means you don't get to read some Living Brown South American Female's book, that's one problem. But if having some LBSAF book that everyone read ten years ago and is looking for something new prevents us all from finding a book by some Living Brown South Pacific Transgendered Something-or-other's book, that's a whole other problem.

As long as people are reading what you bought, and you're buying what they want to read, I think the readers will be happy. The people who aren't reading -- but like to talk about what people should be reading -- won't be as happy, but then, is that really who a library is for?

I thought so.

Addendum: http://www.lib.az.us/cdt/weeding.htm

They suggest a "weed as you go" strategy of weeding damaged/dated stuff as it comes back to the circulation desk. !?! Nice. See? I'm really not being that unreasonable. They also advocate shelf-reading a section before weeding it. Ha! Like we've got the time for that. In any event, given the way the printout shows up (alpha based on shelf tag then random or something not useful) it wouldn't help that much anyway. I definitely agree it would be nice to weed while closed and/or empty. Trying to run circ desk and weed at the same time sucks.

Ooooh. This one's _really_ good.

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