Sometimes I can’t believe my own near-sighted eyes.
The librarians of Fairfax County, Virginia, have reinvented the idea of the library for the 21st century. “A book is not forever,” says Sam Clay, the director of the system. “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.” So Clay has set out to purge from Fairfax County libraries all 40 feet of tulip books, which were apparently purchased during the great Tulip Mania of the 17th century. But it’s not just books on tulips he’s tossing into the dustbin of history. Aided by a computer program that earmarks books that haven’t been checked out in two years, he has ruthlessly weeded out outdated works by such long-dead, irrelevant authors as Virgil, Aristotle, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and many others, all to make room for ten more copies of the latest bestseller by John Grisham.
Books that bored me to tears when I was young and forced to read them in school are finally getting their just desserts.
Reads like something out of The Onion, doesn’t it?
Cynics like myself might think that this is the latest ploy from librarians facing budget cuts to try to create an outrage in order to have more money poured into the public library.
To do more with less, Fairfax library officials have started running like businesses. Clay bought state-of-the art software that spits out data on each of the 3.1 million books in the county system — including age, number of times checked out and when. There are also statistics on the percentages of shelf space taken up by mysteries, biographies and kids’ books.
Every branch gets a printout of the data each month, including every title that hasn’t circulated in the previous 24 months. It’s up to librarians to decide whether a book stays. The librarians have discretion, but they also have targets, collection manager Julie Pringle said. “What comes in is based on what goes out,” she said.
But it doesn’t stop there:
“I think the days of libraries saying, ‘We must have that, because it’s good for people,’ are beyond us,” says Leslie Berger, president of the American Library Association.
Here’s the punch line, folks: Leslie Berger’s not only the president of the ALA, but, as the WaPo points out, she’s the director of the Princeton Public Library:
“There is a sense in many public libraries that popular materials are what most of our communities desire. Everybody’s got a favorite book they’re trying to promote.”
The Princeton Public Library “has become the community’s living room“, a place where
people shop, talk and fall in love.
How about that! Is there a verb missing (r-e-a-d) in that sentence?
At three stories, the Princeton Public Library is monumental in scale…
That it is: “58,000 square feet on three floors for public use plus a 4,000 square foot mechanical penthouse on the fourth floor”. They also keep their lights on all day and all night.
…and at the same time openly welcoming. A large glass “porch” and playful glass staircase create a lively “see and be seen” theatricality along the main Princeton street, while quiet spaces and reading nooks are secluded throughout the building. Materials are attractively “merchandised” through custom displays, lighting and graphics forming interior landscapes that invite browsing and inspire exploration for every level of user.
I’m posting this text from the PPL site just so you know that here in The Principality we’re not all a bunch of esoteric nerdy dorks interested only in arcane texts of substantial literary merit.
We’re also lively, interested in “seeing and being seen”, and like our open glass staircases to remain playful.
And for that the PPL cost $18,000,000.
At least Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Abe Books are there when I need them.