Sunday, December 18, 2011

Stacking the Deck against the Stacks

Another terrifying story about the war on libraries, in this case The New York Public Library.  But the fight is the same as ours, on a much larger scale.

What we are told is that to continue to receive funding we must adapt our libraries to 21st century needs.  So what we do is make room for computers by getting rid of books.

We are told that eBooks are the future, and so we take gigantic leaps to pursue this unproven claim.  We take money from the book budget to fund eBooks.  But we can't afford the vast selection of eBooks the way we would fund a paper collection, so we only "purchase" the most popular titles.

"Purchase" does not mean we own the titles, however.  We pay per use; we never own a title the way we own a copy of A Bright and Shining Lie or Profiles in Courage or The Help.

Who make out with electronic media?  The media companies make out.  They do not have to provide physical material, they get to sell it over and over and over again.  How many times it is borrowed is limited by how much the library pays for it.  And once it is no longer popular, it gets deleted from the offerings to make "room" for more titles.

We are losing breadth and depth, whether we are the New York Public Library or the Charleston County Public Library, by selling our souls to the electronic age.

We could insist on keeping the reading rooms and collections we have.  We could apply for increased budgets for electronic resources, public computers and eBooks.  We can fight to maintain the size of the libraries and the library staff.

But we don't.

And as The Nation describes in the article about the NYPL, so many of the changes are done covertly, and the proposals talk about what we "need", and not about what we will lose.

And once it's gone, all we have left are a few more public computers and air.

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