Libraries Dump the Classics

Posted on January 3, 2007

The classics are being pulled from libraries to make way for contemporary works. The Washington Post reports that the classics are disappearing from the shelves of Fairfax County, Virginia libraries. The reason given by the library for the dumping of the likes of Hemingway in favor of popular books? No one checked out certain classics in two years, so they're gone in favor of more popular fiction.

You can't find "Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings" at the Pohick Regional Library anymore. Or "The Education of Henry Adams" at Sherwood Regional. Want Emily Dickinson's "Final Harvest"? Don't look to the Kingstowne branch. It's not that the books are checked out. They're just gone. No one was reading them, so librarians took them off the shelves and dumped them. Along with those classics, thousands of novels and nonfiction works have been eliminated from the Fairfax County collection after a new computer software program showed that no one had checked them out in at least 24 months.


"We're being very ruthless," said Sam Clay, director of the 21-branch system since 1982. "A book is not forever. If you have 40 feet of shelf space taken up by books on tulips and you find that only one is checked out, that's a cost."

That is the new reality for the Fairfax system and the future for other libraries. As books on tape, DVDs, computers and other electronic equipment crowd into branches, there is less room for plain old books. So librarians are making hard decisions and struggling with a new issue: whether the data-driven library of the future should cater to popular tastes or set a cultural standard, even as the demand for the classics wanes. Library officials say they will always stock Shakespeare's plays, "The Great Gatsby" and other venerable titles. And many of the books pulled from one Fairfax library can be found at another branch and delivered to a patron within a week.

The Post says libraries are trying to stay relevant in age when "reference materials and novels can be found on the Internet and Oprah's Book Club helps set standards of popularity."

Leslie Burger, president of the American Library Association and director of Princeton Public Library, tells the Post, "I think the days of libraries saying, 'We must have that, because it's good for people,' are beyond us. There is a sense in many public libraries that popular materials are what most of our communities desire. Everybody's got a favorite book they're trying to promote."

This story is so appalling that we can hardly respond in a coherent fashion. Libraries aren't bookstores. The classics shouldn't be dumped just because more people read Grisham than read the writings of Abraham Lincoln. Our very culture is being destroyed by this new, mercenary way of running a library like a bookstore. Read the entire article -- and be horrified.

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