One of the major successes of the Industrial Age, thanks to the philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie, was the establishment of thousands of public libraries. I have some very happy memories of a childhood spent in my hometown public library, first enjoying the whimsical offerings of the children's section, then gravitating toward reference, research and other serious pursuits.
If you blindfolded me and plunked me down at the entrance of Kent Memorial Library, I have no doubt that I could find my way to the periodicals section, the card catalog (remember those?) and, of course, the section containing Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. I may have been the only one reading and rereading some of those works, but I knew where to find them if I needed them.
But a piece in the Leisure & Arts section on OpinionJournal.com, Checked Out, mentions a startling development at the Fairfax County Public Library system near Washington, DC: thanks to a new software tool that identifies which books have not been checked out in two years, the library is making the decision to toss some of the classics.
Hemingway, Bronte, Faulkner, Hardy - these are all headed for the trash heap simply because they haven't been borrowed recently. No mention of Conan Doyle, thank goodness (I like to think that his works are constantly in circulation).
So, the Industrial Age which saw the rise of public libraries gives way to the Information Age, which sees libraries turned into nothing more than entities that cater to the whim of the latest book craze. Shouldn't libraries serve a more noble function? Should they not act as repositories of classics that are perpetually available, as temples of scholarship and reference for the ages?
Do take a moment to read the entire opinion piece - it offers an excellent perspective on what we should value with regard to our libraries. And feel free to drop a note if you have a strong view on this yourself.