Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Today when I read "Hello, Grisham--So Long, Hemingway?" in The Washington Post, my heart sank. The article identifies the following books as being dumped from various branch libraries in Fairfax Virginia because they had not been checked out in the last 24 months: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Wiliams, The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well by Maya Angelou, The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, and The Works of Aristotle. Not to be weeded out are the most checked-out books in December 2006, books by such authors as John Grisham, David Baldacci, James Patterson, Nelson DeMille, and Stephen King.

With more electronics and less shelf space, libraries are "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." This topic seems ideal for consideration in English classrooms. Students could do original research into the decision making processes at their local public libraries. They could consider what they think about the function of a public library. They might explore the decisions that determine what makes the shelves of their own school libraries. The discussion and debate that revolve around the function of libraries could lead to consideration of the reasons for reading materials in their classes, to their reading choices, to choices of their parents or family members, and to the place of literature in a society.

A number of neighborhood libraries in DC are bolted shut because of lack of funding. Why is that fact appalling to some and of little interest to others? Where do libraries fit in our priorities? If libraries remain open, what should they contain? All important questions.

Barbara Cambridge

9 comments:

Tamara said...

Unbelievable. I can see how a library might need to get rid of some old textbooks or a novel that never had a wide following, but to get rid of To Kill a Mockingbird, The Glass Menagerie, and the other works you mentioned?? I can't comprehend it!

Louann said...

Walter Dean Myers made an eloquent case for public libraries in an op-ed piece in the New York Times a few years ago. Contrasting the poverty he saw around him as he grew up with the library he went to, he wrote that it "was the one place in my world that I could enter and participate in fully despite empty pockets. In the library stacks I could consider a novel by Gide or Balzac or Hemingway, and join a universe that would otherwise be denied me." As is often the case, I'm afraid that the library's financial decisions don't account for the larger social value that the library can provide. Again, it seems, the poor get poorer.

Jamie said...

Maybe libraries do need to consider whether changes are necessary to bring in the community. Growing up my parents both worked. Being the older sister I was responsible for my brother. We often rode our bikes to the library for new books, and once a week to watch the movie they were showing. I still enjoy visiting the library. Do children no longer enjoy summer programs at their community library?

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