Open Weeding — Is This a Library 2.0 / Slow Library concept?

I have been watching communities, pundits and librarians, librarians, librarians and librarians alike discussing the Washington Post article about weeding.

My first inclination was wonder why any library advocate would say something like this:

“We’re being very ruthless,” said Sam Clay, director of the 21-branch system since 1982. “A book is not forever. If you have 40 feet of shelf space taken up by books on tulips and you find that only one is checked out, that’s a cost.”

to the masses. Traditional knowledge would tell me that bragging about your weeding policy to the public is almost certainly doomed to misunderstanding. Books have a symbolic significance — even in the web 2.0 world — as something sacred. The symbolism of throwing out “Hemingway” is the perfect story for a media outlet to sensationalize because it stands at the heart of some serious moral concepts like “art,” “education,” “freedom of expression” and “culture.” The public, to my mind then, is not apt to hear that the books are probably ratty or damaged, or that there are probably a wide number of copies available for hold from other branch libraries. Instead, they are more likely to see the weeding of books the same way that most see a cull of baby seals or other cute animals (for reference sakes, it is _not_ legal in Canada to kill baby seals — the seals made public by Peta types were grown-ups [or poached illegally]).

To my first inclination, I thought it was a very poor idea to communicate how “ruthless” you are being to your collection to the mass public. Public Librarians brag to each other how ruthless they are with their old collections because they know that ‘ruthless’ weeding usually means more people end up borrowing more [not just Danielle Steele] stuff. But this is not the stuff for the public who don’t understand the nuances of Academic vs Public libraries and so on.

Anyway, as I sat on this for a while, I thought “Maybe being open and honest about what you do is precisely the sort of thing Library 2.0 is all about.”

Sure there was backlash and people talking about how stupid us librarians were. But a number of librarians were able to set things [relatively] straight. In the process, a good lot of very intelligent people were able to discover some of the really hard decisions that librarians have to make on a daily basis.

And the last, and perhaps most important part of this, the public gets to have their say about what direction their library ought to take. Isn’t this Library 2.0 at the heart?

Maybe Library 2.0 is about taking the hard hits and sparking some controversy every once in a while if only to engage the public in a discussion about the direction they want their libraries to take? A hemingway at every branch? Well, why not? Even if it doesn’t get checked out. Think about it — we have major community meetings about what sort of art/statues/architectural features go inside the library, why wouldn’t we allow for some degree of “high culture” on our shelves if only for cultural purposes? And maybe the public gets to decide what “dust collectors” these books should be.

The more I ponder Library 2.0/Slow Library/Whatever, the more I realize that I have to take even my own “first inclinations” and second guess them. It wouldn’t be the first time I discovered that change’s biggest advocates are also change’s biggest barriers.