How would you feel if you walked into your local library one day, asked to check out a book like The Old Man and the Sea or The Iliad, and the librarian told you she no longer “carried” those books? What would you do if, after asking her “Why not?” she said, “Because they just weren’t popular enough”? Such a scenario sound stranger than fiction?
Sadly, it isn’t.
According to a Washington Post article last week, several libraries around the nation are, shall we say, shelving the books that haven’t been checked out for a “long” period of time:
Like Borders and Barnes & Noble, Fairfax [library] is responding aggressively to market preferences, calculating the system's return on its investment by each foot of space on the library shelves—and figuring out which products will generate the biggest buzz. So books that people actually want are easy to find, but many books that no one is reading are gone—even if they are classics.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. The federal government cut funding for libraries, precipitating this "re-prioritizing." Perhaps you’re thinking that scientists found a new pathogen, which resides only in dusty books, and libraries are consequently taking steps to improve their patrons’ health.
O.K., the latter is an obvious no, but more shockingly, the former is too. The libraries are removing authors like Aristotle, Proust and Faulkner because, "We don't want to keep what people don't use much of." Apparently, run-of-the-mill pot-boilers, or novels that have Fabio wearing angel wings on their covers, are considered more interesting.
And while I'm sure the librarians have the best intentions, their actions—even the idea of their actions being acceptable—only underscore the idea that American culture is in decline. We Americans huff and puff about having lots of pride. But how proud can we truly be if it's always about the bottom line?