Thursday, March 7, 2024

De-accessioning. . .

Alas I have obtained that period of life in which I must begin to thin the books on the shelves since I have fewer feet of shelf space in which to inhabit.  As I carted off 14 very large cases of books to my seminary alma mater, I was struck by what I was parting with and what I was keeping.  I had thought I would be pulling the older books from the shelves and, as the librarians might put it, de-accessioning them from my library.  In the end, it turned out to be just the opposite.  First to go were some of the last to be purchased (or given) for my library.  The keepers were inevitably older volumes -- first printings of what are now out of print (except for those who print "on demand."  In this I find myself at odds with what is happening in many if not most libraries across the nation.

Libraries today seem intent upon getting rid of most of their older books (“de-accessioning” them).  How odd it is!  To replace those volumes which have stood the test of time only to replace them with books whose value no one can tell seems lunacy.  Yet those who peruse used book stories will find countless tomes once considered standard.  You may purchase them cheaply enough but it seems not that many want them anymore -- at least those outside of my own circle.  How sad it is that our children and grandchildren will not even know the names of the historic works we once devoured along with our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.  In their place they have books that hit the best seller list but which are likely not to outlast their first printing.

Of course, they are being rejected precisely because they may be found offensive by the generation of people offended by just about anything and everything.  These volumes do not reflect the prejudices of the day and do not herald the causes in vogue in the moment.  Surely this could be their greatest values!  

I sometimes quote movies in my classes and have often quoted Princess Bride and Ferris Bueller's Day Off only to find that my hearers have not even seen these films.  What a loss!  In an age in which video games are common culture and even high culture, we could do worse than spending a few hours on some of these old titles.  It might be different if I found that the substitutions for the past were noble and worthy but that is precisely the point.  What have we gained by replacing the great authors of all time with books that have had only a few moments in the limelight?  Could it be that we are artificially raising their visibility by making them required reading in our schools?  I am currently looking for a copy of the old film A Room with a View.  A great Merchant and Ivory production, I had it on VHS but seem to have forgotten to pick it up on DVD.  Oddly enough, you can find the worst things on streaming services but seldom can find gems like this.  Could it be that what is popular is also bland and even depressing?  If you want to find something good to read or watch, take a look at what libraries across our universities and communities are casting out from their collections.  De-accessioning might be good news for those who desire to accumulate a more timeless literature or film for their library.

1 comment:

Mabel said...

I also am trying to make more room on my bookshelves but for every 10 I get rid of, always by donating or passing onto friends, 12 more seem to appear. This Friday and Saturday, the nearby United Methodist church is having their annual used book sale. The people at that church are real readers, with books on all topics, from best selling novels to serious nonfiction tomes. Last year, I was going to limit myself to 3-4 books. Then a smiling woman walked up to me, handed me a large paper grocery bag and encouraged me to "Fill up this entire bag with as many books as it can hold, only $5!"