I didn’t know I lived in such a small town until, after 10 years, I finally walked into my local public library and found a depressingly thin and deficient collection. Sure, there are several dozen books of fiction and non-fiction, poetry and reference, but the choices are odd and lacking in nutrition.
The search for something enriching is arduous. Since space is at a premium, I was told, the library can’t store as many titles as one might expect. In other words, I guess, they keep what people want to read, and one look at the collection makes the entire experience that much more depressing.
On my first visit, I found, buried on the bottom shelf, “The Anatomy Lesson” by Phillip Roth. Good book. Not his best, but it’s Roth. Today, I wanted to pick up Richard Ford‘s “Canada,” which seemed simple enough, only to find that the library didn’t stock a single Ford title.
“Well, he has a Pulitzer,” I said to very nice woman at the desk. “Surely, you’d have one of his books.”
“Oh, a Pulitzer.”
Moving on then. Amid the scores of J.D. Robb and Janet Evanovich and James Patterson and Nora Roberts titles, I struggled to find but two Roth books, a couple of Dennis Lehane works, a pair of Cormac McCarthy titles, one whopping Jonathan Franzen book, a single Thomas Pynchon book, one Ernest Hemingway, one lonely William Faulkner and nary a trace of Mark Twain or F. Scott Fitzgerald or Chaucer or Dante or even Don DeLillo.
I get it. It’s a small library with precious little space and it can’t have everything. However, what has been chosen for the public (based on what that reading public wants) smacks of a massive shortcut. Get what’s hot on the best sellers list and there you go. No, they can’t house all the classics of the world. No, they can’t eliminate the tripe-y supermarket titles, either, but if this is what the public wants, what does the future hold for the public? On the other hand, if the reading public can’t find what it thinks it wants, maybe it would try something different/new/better.
All of this worries me.
Some of you may be thinking, “Hey, I like J.D. Robb, you pretentious jerk!” More power to you and maybe you’re right. I have no problem with books of any kind and the people who read them. The issue, though, is that this is a public library and it should not cater to the masses as much as it should act more like a museum, a house of worship of books, no matter how small the budget or the building.
A public library that chooses to eliminate what I was told are “the older titles people aren’t really looking for” is doing a disservice to the community. I’m sure this isn’t just happening in my local library, but across the country. You know, if you want junk food, don’t go to a fine dining restaurant and if you want fine dining, don’t go to the drive-thru. Maybe that isn’t the best analogy, but you get the point.
I suppose there is an argument against my position to be made, and it probably goes like this: If public dollars go to supporting a public library, then it should house what the public wants.
I hear that and I understand it but it’s unacceptable. Maybe that’s what scares me the most, that the public wants the sizzle and not the steak.
Wow, that was one terrible yet fitting cliché.
A public library, no matter how big, should aim higher and to try in any way possible to better the world. A library with a limited budget in a small town might want to try to rise above the rest of the other libraries across the country with bigger budgets and more diversified readers.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m in denial. Am I?