Wednesday, January 03, 2007

What Is a Library?

Is it all right for a library to throw out novels by Hemingway and Hardy that nobody reads to make room for those by Grisham that will be checked out?

John Miller responds in this way:

Library officials explain, not unreasonably, that their shelf space is limited and that they want to satisfy the demands of the public. Every unpopular book that's removed from circulation, after all, creates room for a new page-turner by John Grisham, David Baldacci, or James Patterson--the authors of the three most checked-out books in Fairfax County last month.

But this raises a fundamental question: What are libraries for? Are they cultural storehouses that contain the best that has been thought and said? Or are they more like actual stores, responding to whatever fickle taste or Mitch Albom tearjerker is all the rage at this very moment?

Miller goes on to argue that libraries reduced to free bookstores lose their reason for being before offering an alternative that would allow libraries to remain relevant in the age of modern technology. Read it here.


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