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I never thought I’d be blogging about a Cracked article. I suppose it comes to all of us, one day…
During my usual evening random stroll through the internet, I came across this: 6 reasons we’re in another book burning period in history. It’s written by someone who has spent the past year ‘walk[ing] walk through library warehouses and destroy tens of thousands of often old and irreplaceable books.’
Now, I’m an adult. I’ve worked in a library. I know that withdrawn books don’t get to go live on a farm. I know a lot of them don’t even go to booksales, or services such as Better World Books. I know of the existence of the horrid thing known as the Library Skip. I know that judicious weeding must happen – that libraries (especially legal deposit) are being overwhelmed by the numbers of new books coming in, and are building huge stores and moving books into salt mines. I know that libraries have to keep stock moving, and ensure that what they keep meets their users’ needs.
But I always imagined this being done with discernment and professionalism. The image that Davis represents in the Cracked article is one of books being indiscriminately pulled off shelves and pulped en masse, with no regard for rarity or value:
Imagine holding a beautiful, dusty, illustrated volume of Shakespeare printed in the 1700s, a calligraphic message from its long-dead owner inscribed on the inside cover, and throwing it straight in the trash. I’ve been there, more than once. I could have kept it and maybe gotten a few hundred dollars for it on eBay, if my supervisor wasn’t watching with specific orders to prevent me from doing that.
Davis does go on to say that this is not usually the choice of the librarians – that they are told to get rid of a certain number of books by a certain date, and indiscriminate destruction is often the only viable way to do so.
Exaggerated? Hyperbolised? I hoped so. So I turned to twitter. The response? It happens – though, understandably, people don’t want to say when and where. A ray of hope comes from one responder, who said that while it had happened in the past, things were ‘better now’. This would fit with my impressions – I know there are collaborative collection management projects, designed to ensure that weeding is considered on a larger-scale than just that of the institution. But I worry that there may still be places where ‘chuck it all in a skip’ may be seen as the most cost-effective approach to stock management.
What do I worry about even more than that? Well, I worry about the impact of this article. Cracked has a huge readership, and it’s already spawned a response article over on NPR. These are people who probably wouldn’t usually read about libraries – a huge echo chamber escape! woohoo, eh?
Well, no. Not woohoo. Not even woo. This is bad. At a time when libraries are under huge threats from funders who deem them irrelevant, library professionals and supporters are battling hard to prove the value of libraries and librarians; to prove that we darn well do more than just stamp books.
And now? There are at least half a million people (yes, the article has 575,482 views at time of writing) who do know something more about what librarians do: they randomly destroy the very books and knowledge they’re meant to be protecting.
Am I making too much of it? Making it worse by reacting like this? Maybe. But this article gave me a tiny moment of doubt about the profession I love. Batman help us all if our opponents pick up on it.