Libraries: Warehouses for Dead Books?

Fisher Library, University of Sydney

The University of Sydney’s Fisher Library has joined a growing list of libraries to attract the wrath of borrowers at the suggestion that a large number of books are to be removed from the shelves.  Recently libraries at the University of Denver and the University of New South Wales also attracted criticism from borrowers.  These protests  demonstrate that libraries are regarded as providing an important service in our society.  More importantly they demonstrate that libraries are undergoing a transformation. As with all transformations it is a painful, exciting and uncertain time.  We cannot be certain about what lies in the future for libraries, but we do know that libraries cannot continue to function in the same way they did last century.  This is the Information Age and as libraries have traditionally been the source of information for our society, it is hardly surprising that these usually quiet places are now the centre of an intense debate.

Nothing about our present understanding of libraries should be taken for granted.  In this post I want to focus on the role that libraries currently fulfil as archives.  Seth Godin recently made a provocative comment on libraries as archives:

The library is no longer a warehouse for dead books.

Seth Godin, ‘The future of the library‘, 16/5/2011. Continue reading

Sydney University Library: Borrowers Protest

Lots of people in the foyer of the Fisher Library, University of Sydney

The normally empty foyer of the Fisher Library was crowded with people seeking to borrow books at yesterday’s mass book borrow protest.

Yesterday students at the University of Sydney organised a mass borrowing of books to protest against proposals by the University’s Fisher Library to remove 500,000 books from the shelves and retrench 30 staff.  Just two months ago concern was expressed at the removal of a large number of books from the library at University of New South Wales. I wrote about this in a previous post and examined the problems librarians face as the result of a finite amount of space to accommodate an increasing number of books. In this post I will examine more closely the specific circumstances and issues that the borrowers and librarians at Fisher Library are grappling with. Continue reading

History Without the Book???

Room lined with glass coved bookcases, table in the middle with open archive boxes, books, computer etc.

In the midst of my research in the reading room at the University of Wollongong Archives.

People worry about the ephemeral nature of information on the internet.  Web pages are easy to create and just as easy to remove or alter.  Many prefer to refer to a hard copy of a book because they believe that it will be accessible for longer than information found on the internet.

But the book is not an inviolable object.  It can be destroyed by disaster, carelessness and by a deliberate act.  Recently the Sydney Morning Herald drew attention to the destruction of thousands of old books, journals and newspapers by the University of New South Wales.  Unfortunately the library’s response does not seem to have had much publicity.  The library states,

Where duplicate copies are discarded, at least one copy is left on the shelves so the knowledge contained in the book is still available.

Andrew Well, University Librarian, University of New South Wales, ‘Statement on Collection Management’, 16/3/2011

Nowhere in this statement or in the library’s ‘Collection Development Policy’ is there any reference to removing all copies of certain books unless the library holds the last copy in Australia as suggested in the Sydney Morning Herald article.  I will leave this discrepancy for others to address.  My aim here is to explore the broader issue of the pressures faced by archives and libraries around Australia to balance retaining material for posterity versus the inevitable difficulties posed by funding and storage constraints. Continue reading