Tuesday, February 26, 2013

On the weight of books

In the L.A. Times there was an article in the book section called The Weight of Books. One thing the article discusses is the shear amount of room that a personal book collection can consume in a house.

This article reminded me of a discussion I had with a librarian where I had asked if the person was going to buy a copy of a particular book for themselves.  In a rather hostile tone they responded that they were a librarian and they did not buy books. If they wanted to read a book they would get the book at the library.

I was a little put off by the forcefulness of their response. How was I to know that they did not buy books and I should not suggest a book purchase to them? After I got over my initial reaction to the forceful response I started to think about the logic of the response and I did think this philosophy did have several advantages.

I spoke to another librarian that was friends with the "I don't have books in my house" librarian and they verified that the person had maybe three books in their house. If they did read anything else they obtained it at the library. From what I could gather the person did not want to be encumbered with a large number of books if they moved and they also did not want their house cluttered with books. They figured they worked in a book warehouse so if they needed a book they would get it there and then return it.

As I thought about the persons philosophy on purchasing books I did think that it was a good way to support libraries. I think there is an odd paradox that many book lovers are relatively low users of libraries because they purchase many of their books and then do not use the library.

I think especially in large cities (50 largest U.S. cities) the libraries should have extremely extensive collections so that people can feel comfortable getting rid of a book because they know it is available at their library. Since the libraries would be providing these extensive collections they would need to be properly supported by the community. I can hear librarians saying, "But we do not have the space for all these books." The libraries could have room if the community provided the proper resources. Many people use the term "book warehouse" as a derogatory term for libraries. I definitely think that libraries are more than book warehouses but maybe there is something to be gained by owning this term.

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