De-accessioning is the inelegant euphemism used by librarians. Getting rid of books, they mean.
It’s a fascinating essay and I may well come back to some of the other points the writer makes at a later date, but today I want to consider this opening statement because for me it really hit home. Locally we have two major new libraries being built. The one in the city centre is well on the way and will open in September next year. The other, at the city’s main University, is still just a set of blue prints, but already it is clear what the priorities behind the design have been. In neither case has the place of books been of prime importance and therefore in both cases de-accessioning is very obviously going to figure high on the list of tasks to be completed before opening.
If I mention the new central library to my non-librarian friends they all talk about how wonderful the new building is going to be with its atrium and its places for public performance. What they don’t refer to is the question of books. However, when I discuss it with the librarians from the branches serviced from the centre they immediately talk about the number of books that are being de-accessioned; that is, either sold off, given away or simply dumped. I don’t know how you feel, but much as I appreciate first class public spaces, what I really want from a library is books. I actually thought that was what libraries were about, but probably this is just me being seriously old-fashioned.
Never mind, I am going to get a superb new University library and indeed one about which the student body were consulted to discover what they wanted from a state-of-the -art building. Be encouraged. They wanted more books, or at least more in the way of multiple copies of set texts. They also wanted more places to study and more points where they could plug in their laptops. Guess what. The building is going to be smaller than the present one yet will have to house more of the special collections currently dispersed around the campus. That to me suggests that there isn’t going to be enough space for the existing stock let alone the capacity to extend it. This suspicion was further fed last week when I was proudly informed that part of the building was going to be given over to a magnificent new display area to allow other areas of the University to foreground their work. Why can’t they foreground their work in their own space? Or is that far too obvious an idea to be considered.
Oh, and in case you were wondering there are fewer study stations planned, despite student numbers rising. I can’t speak for the laptop plugs.
No one has yet mentioned de-accessioning, at least not in my hearing, but what would you like to bet?
Am I being hopelessly old-fashioned? I use new technologies. I have not one but two e-readers. I really appreciate being able to access articles on-line rather than having to wait in line for a new journal to be available. But libraries are about books and whatever you choose to call it throwing books away is throwing books away. Not quite as bad as book burning, perhaps, but nevertheless I feel a protest coming on.