What is the purpose of a public library? Is it to hold classic books in trust for society, even if they are not popular right now? Or is to provide books that are popular right now, no matter their long-term quality? Some would say both, but what if the library decided it could only do one of those things. The public library system in Fairfax, Virginia, has done just that and has decided in favor of the new over the old.
“We’re being very ruthless,” said Sam Clay, director of the 21-branch system. “A book is not forever. If you have 40 feet of shelf space taken up by books on tulips and you find that only one is checked out, that’s a cost.”
Tulips? The list of potential casualties of this new approach appears to be a bit more shocking than obscure technical references. The Fairfax libraries are now using new computer software programs to identify titles that have not been checked out in 24 months.
Which books aren’t making the cut? So far, they’ve removed the speeches and writings of Abraham Lincoln and the poems of Emily Dickinson. Other books due to get the “Logan’s Run” treatment include The Works of Aristotle, The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and The Aeneid by Virgil.
New technologies make this less of a problem