There have been a number of letters to the editor lately bemoaning the sizeable purge of books from the library.
The numbers are as follows (including adult, young adult and children’s books): in 2014, there were over 137, 000 volumes in the collection; today, there are a shade over 120,000.
Discarded volumes included those that were damaged and outdated.
The total numbers also include “lost or stolen.”
Considering that the library also adds about 10,000 volumes annually, the total losses may be nearer to 25,000 volumes than to the apparent 17,000.
Culling outdated books is a matter for professional librarians.
For example, I doubt that there is much community interest in “The Idiot’s Guide to Floppy Discs” this year.
And a children’s picture book defaced by crayon and strawberry jelly is no longer of much use either.
I think it fair to consider such culls as inevitable and even useful in keeping the library fulfilling its mandate to the community.
What bothers me, on the other hand, are the large numbers of books that should be in the collection, that were in the collection, and that were, for whatever reason, chucked out.
In the weeks before the Main Library closed for renovations, I purchased about 50 books being discarded, many of which were exceptional art books, normally considered the bedrock of a fine arts collection.
I assumed at the time that they were being replaced with new editions, or that they were duplicates.
Since that time, I’ve checked the titles in the library catalog and can report with some rueful surprise that not one of them fell into either of the above-mentioned categories.
I list five, chosen at random: “The Grande Heures of Jean,” “Duke of Berry” (a gorgeous collection of medieval art, replacement cost on Amazon is $30-$100), “The Book of Kells” (early Irish art at its elaborate best, replacement cost $200-600), “Al Andalus” (a superb analysis of the art and culture of the Cordoba Callifate, replacement cost $115-350) “Art Treasures of Russia” (photos of paintings, icons, and objects over a thousand year span, replacement cost $165-191), and the only one of the five still in print, “The Rohan Master: A Book of Hours” (breathtakingly beautiful medieval art at $65 replacement cost).
My question is simply, “Why?”
I am delighted to have these volumes in my own collection, but saddened that the knowledge and beauty of these and similar volumes have been denied to the community whose support enabled the library to purchase them in the first place.