I am having a beef with the library. Not an argument or anything, just a feeling of disappointment. I want to know, where are all the books?
Many years ago, when I was in high school and an undergraduate in college (this was back in the late 80’s), I used to go to the main library branch and check out books. Not just any books, works of literature. It was not a huge collection, but they did have some books by world class writers in their fiction section.
It was at the public library that I first encountered Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Andre Gide, Gunter Grass, Knut Hamsun, Herman Hesse, Kobo Abe, Franz Kafka, William Faulkner, Willa Cather, and Toni Morrison. There was also the poetry by Czeslaw Milosz, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo, Eugenio Montale, and Constantine Cavafy. This is not a complete list, but that reading at the public library formed the basis of my own personal collection, as I acquired copies of the books for myself.
Then in the 90’s, the library build a new Library Center, way on the other side of the city from me, and sent the whole collection over to the new library, virtually shutting it off from me. It was alright. By then I went off the graduate school, and eventually moved to another city for a while, and had access to academic university libraries. I wasn’t reading much literature anymore, since I had other studies to deal with. That only lasted for so long. Eventually, I had to come home and return to the public library. And I was shocked.
At this point, I had not been in the public library for 20 years, and when I came back, they were gone! All my beloved books had been removed from the shelves and from the catalog. I wanted to revisit some of those books I had not seen in so long. They were gone. Gide, Abe, and Montale were obliterated from the stacks. Hesse, Borges, and Garcia-Marquez were reduced to only a handful of volumes. They used to have dozens of books by these authors. The rest, with the exception of Faulkner and Morrison, which seemed to have survived the purge, were reduced to a stray book here and there. The literary holdings of the library seem to have been gutted.
It’s not that the library does not have books anymore, they still do, and ebooks, and videos, and large print books, and video games. They still have lots of books, but they seem to be mostly genre books: Romance, Westerns, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, Christian, Suspense, Mystery. In fact, they seem to have far more genre books than literary books.
I guess people are not reading literary books much anymore, and the library collects and circulates what library users want. Ok, I understand if the library does not want to acquire as many literary books as before, but why did they have to get rid of the ones they already had!? What, were they just taking up too much room on the shelves!? I guess if they don’t get checked out, they get removed, and I was not there to save them with my library card. Nevertheless, It still feels like a loss to me.
I am not going to get all pious or sentimental, and lament the loss of these books, or complain that the future generation of young people will be deprived. I almost went there but slapped myself back to reality. The library will only collect what people want to read. Styles and interests change. And those young people, they will find their way to those books that most inspire them. Used books are cheap on Amazon and other online book sites. Many of the older books are now in the public domain and can be downloaded free on a kindle, laptop or PC.
I have many new authors (some old that I am just finding, and some new ones who have not been around that long) that I have discovered in recent years to check out. And there are many new ways of reading them today then there were in 1990. And if I can’t find them online, there is always inter-library loan.