I’m weeding half of our reference collection. I now realize I’ve come down on the far side of a fence. It divides those who think public libraries should be archives of books and arcane finding aids from those who believe public libraries should be repositories of information and information-finding tools in all formats, taking full advantage of easily-updatable and portable electronic formats.
Looking at all the old, one-of-a-kind books I am removing from our collection, I feel a nostalgia for the sweat equity I put into learning about print sources: the hours spent examining indexes, introductions, scope notes, imprints, editions. The getting-to-know-you feeling that comes from that initial “handshake” with a book. In another time, these tomes were useful and used. Today, the bindings are worn, the print is faded, the knowledge contained inside updated in other sources. They are superseded. I’m weeding them. The shelves look empty, but I feel good that the books that are left will be used more, now that the outdated volumes are gone.Books like those I’m weeding have a place – just not in this public library.
Research libraries still exist on college campuses and as private institutions. I use them myself, and am grateful for the librarians that had the foresight to know which books would have lasting value for researchers. Those old books will always have a place to call home, complete with book sofa, like this 1867 document in the New Orleans Historical Collections.