Friday, October 24, 2008

London Librarys' Big Secret Dump Bin

We have written before about public libraries dumping books in skips for land fill and now The East London Advertiser informs us that Tower Hamlets are to bin its almost entire collection of 30,000 specialist foreign language books.

French, German and Portuguese collections stored at Bethnal Green Library are no longer wanted and most have never been borrowed. The books occupy some 1,000 shelves and are to be joined in the tip by some 2,750 specialist books on Americana literature. They languished in the basement of the former Limehouse Library until two years ago before being transferred to a storage room in Bethnal Green.

The books are part of a scheme started some 60 years ago ‘Metropolitan Special Reserve’ whereby, 28 former Metropolitan boroughs were given specific responsibilities to buy and maintain specialist areas of stock to meet reader reservations across London. Limehouse developed a collection of 16,500 French, 10,500 German and 1,200 Portuguese works.

The books appear unwanted by; Academic libraries who say the stock is out of date or they already have a copy, Public libraries because of the specialist nature and age and booksellers because they have little commercial value.
So across London piles of ‘unwanted’ books look to be heading for landfill or the incinerator.

We hope that this programme of destruction raises the question once again of what libraries should be buying today and their role moving forward. It would be too easy to merely fill empty shelves or just trundle along as if nothing had happened. These books cost a large sum of money and have just sat there expecting to be read. As we move towards the virtual shelf and the cavernous repositories of the likes of Google what will the libraries buy now and how will they communicate the fact that they even have it available. Library management is perhaps the biggest oxymoron.

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