The "on duty" Reference Librarian turned out to be at the check-out desk, mainly handling that part of the business. They maintained a neutral perspective and affect when asked about the change, and it was not possible to get meaningful information. It seemed likely there was a staffing change involved, either less staff time for Reference activities or a downskilling of Reference positions to be more clerical and therefore less expensive.
The shelves also seemed barer.
Last month an entire run of a periodical I had consulted at the Library before had disappeared, and the Librarians could not find a record of it. They thought I was mistaken to ask for it. This was very strange and unsettling.
So it was very interesting to read the post over at Hinessight, "Salem Public Library removing 30% of print book collection. Resistance is mounting."
Asking the Library mainly for business-style efficiency will lead us to harm our cultural knowledge. From the new head Librarian's response to questions about the book cull:
We also use a product called CollectionHQ, which gives us use metrics, turnover rates, and identifies under- and over-stocked subject areas. With these outlined methods and derived data, we can identify items that no longer circulate, items in poor condition, and outdated information in areas of rapid change such as medicine. We also look for superseded editions, excess copies of previous bestsellers, and worn copies that need to be mended or replaced.This is an application of Big Data and Taylorism that could easily get out of hand.
It is frequently the items that no longer circulate that are the most interesting and important! History is inefficient!
If you want to know about historical attitudes towards something, you need old books and old things. Even if the information in them has been superseded, the cultural practices that at one time embraced or created that information are often important to know about. It is an overconfident and Whiggish sense of Progress that leads us to discount those old things. If there is one lesson in our current "Know Nothing" politics, it should be to question overconfidence in Progress and the "arc of history," and to see wandering and even "retrograde" motion as common. Presentism is a scourge. Very often the old is new again.
|An article from 1998 on cataloguing|
Nicholson Baker has been a leading voice for preservation of card catalogues and newspapers, and Susan Orleans just published a book about libraries and loss. This is a perennial topic, sadly.
So this is something to watch. Maybe it will turn out to be benign, but considering that a former State Librarian has serious concerns, and thinks things have gone beyond ordinary collection weeding, where there's smoke, there is likely fire!