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At the same time new books keep coming out, either a library stops buying new books, continually expands so it always has more room, or disposes of some old books. I think an algorithm is a good guide, but I would trust the Librarians to be able to veto it's recommendations and keep some books that are not read often.



I know how it's played out at my local library. The shelves are significantly less full and there are fewer of them. What did they cull? Among the the books was Richard Rhodes' Making of the Atomic Bomb which won a Pulitzer. Elsewhere though, there's eight shelf feet of Orson Scott Card and twelve of Danielle Steel.


So they got rid of niche books that nobody borrows and replaced them with one of the best selling authors alive and one of the top SciFi authors? Sorry but that seems completely working as intended.

Libraries are for everyone. Not just people with niche academic tastes living in their ivory towers. Entertaining books and regular readers are literally what keeps libraries open.


> So they got rid of niche books that nobody borrows and replaced them with one of the best selling authors alive and one of the top SciFi authors? Sorry but that seems completely working as intended.

That's myopic.

It's far more valuable to have a place where you can find less popular, harder to find items than to have yet another place full of the popular stuff. That's not to say libraries shouldn't have popular stuff but that they should have a bias towards other things. If you want to read Orson Scott Card, you can find his stuff easily, not so much so for the stuff they're culling.


There are different types of libraries. At one extreme, we have archives, with an explicit goal of having a copy of every book and never throwing anything out; in the middle we have research libraries; and at the other extreme we have community public libraries, with a goal of bringing written material to the masses in whatever form the masses are going to consume it.

It's absolutely valuable to have a place to find obscure books... but a community public library isn't that place, and isn't intended to be that place.


It's absolutely valuable to have a place to find obscure books... but a community public library isn't that place, and isn't intended to be that place.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb is a classic, award-winning and relevant book. It's exactly the sort of thing a good community library should have, even if it circulates less than Danielle Steel. There is a big difference between what's important and what's popular.

Those Danielle Steel might provide some entertainment and comfort to people (nothing wrong with that). But The Making of the Atomic Bomb could launch a career or a movement, and possibly even -- we can only hope -- save the planet from destruction.

Truly obscure and unimportant books should of course be culled from circulation in a small community library. Their place is in research libraries, etc. But community libraries serve many purposes, the most important of which, in my mind, is to educate and facilitate discovery and personal growth.

Sometimes you have to give people what they don't know they need yet, not just what they think they want right now.

“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.” -- Andrew Carnegie

I don't think he was talking about romance novels.


But there's a arbitrary decision being made here. We don't know what this guy didn't decide to save. I don't necessarily agree that an algorithm is good, but there does need to be a systemic approach, otherwise you have a reflection of what one individual thinks is important and that's no better.


In your model, how do you expect anyone without a current academic affiliation to get hold of obscure books?

(Interlibrary loan is a significant partial answer here, but as soon as you take ILL into your model you realize that you want to curate the set of all books owned by all libraries collectively. If you locally optimize each library individually then you get too many copies of the common books and too few of the others.)


Optimization of all libraries is a losing battle. Better have lots of well used libraries, which then have budgets for larger collections and more collaboration. Part of a well used library is community support and a collection that serves the communities needs. This leads to bigger budgets, and so on.

A public library is there to serve its community. Participating in ILL is part of that mission, so reciprocating is also necessary. But the library has to optimize for its customers first and others second.


Interlibrary Loan aside, if you live anywhere near a university with an academic library, you can usually buy a membership even if you aren't otherwise affiliated with the university. Locally, I know both UNC and Duke offer programs of that nature. I have previously kept up a UNC library card so I can use their math/CS library. Which reminds me, I should probably go renew that... I haven't been over there in a while.

Also, used bookstores, and Internet retailers like Amazon, Ebay, etc. Not all books that are "obscure" are necessarily expensive in the "rare, hard to find, valuable" sense (although to be fair, some obviously are).


Also, don't forget that community colleges also have libraries, and they're probably a lot more lax than large universities. For instance, one local community college even partnered with the city to create an integrated community-college library.


Yeah, the algorithm probably needs adjustment and flexibility.

As long as a book is available within reasonable time via inter-library loan, the library system hasn't lost the book. The algorithm (or more generally, "the practice") probably needs a "consolidate" outcome in addition to "drop."


> As long as a book is available within reasonable time via inter-library loan, the library system hasn't lost the book.

That's not entirely true, as there is a significant difference between having a book browsable on the shelf and havingnit borrowable with substantial latency via ILL, so there is a loss even if there is still some access available.


Inter-library loan is a distributed peer to peer system. There's no reason to believe that other libraries won't cull the same book...and culling from one library could be considered empirical evidence that it might be culled from other libraries.


Have you considered cold storage?




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