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Books Here to Stay

January 3, 2003

Katherine was put out by last week’s column. Only one of my New Year’s Resolutions mentioned books. The others were “technological,” and Katherine, a professed Luddite, was upset.

I tried to calm her fears. There is no turning away from books at the Salida Regional Library.

We have already resolved to spend more money on books next year. Perhaps this is what Katherine most wanted to hear.

One of the technological resolutions I mentioned last week involved a possible switch to Open Source software in the name of saving money. Sort of like resolving to lose weight and get in shape.

Any money is potential book money, after all. At least, in Katherine’s world.

And I agree: I think books are a perfectly evolved technology for humankind, and the more of them, the merrier.

One reason I offered no exciting book resolutions for the New Year is that the library’s book operations are mature. That is, we have a relatively large and established budget for books, and we have good ways of finding books, buying them, and cataloging them for your use.

The business of it all might make dry reading. However, the individual books themselves and the culture that permits their continual production are well worth celebrating.

The trick of the trade is in selection, in finding those well-done books on a subject that transcend their competitors or, better yet, say something new. Not all books demanded by readers fit this category, but we resolve to find them when we can.

Even with such resolve, I note that of the 975 items that were checked out more than 10 times in the last year, only 132 were classified non-fiction and many of those were Garfield and Calvin & Hobbes cartoon books. Some were audios and videos. Not many history books. Not much science.

Still, I resolve to seek the middle path between a balanced collection and an ample supply of high-demand items.

This is not to say that I couldn’t offer a few resolutions for our boring book operations for 2003. We will continue to improve our catalog through the use of good software and careful cataloging.

We will look for more online sources for reliable book reviews, to help us find good books. We will try to make use of an “acquisitions” function of our new software that immediately puts all books-on-order in our catalog so you can know they’re coming.

We have other demands for information and entertainment, of course, which is why we carry non-paper formats, such as books on tape. This may disappoint you, but I resolve to further delay our foray into books-on-CD until we can invest in CDs with the MP3 format (compressed audio files).

Newer CD players can play both standard CDs and MP3s. The distinct advantage of an MP3 book is in having it fit on one or two CDs instead of a dozen or more. So, we’ll try to skip by the regular CD format without irking too many customers.

This brings up the question of how much can and should a library do? What is the proper mission of a library? Libraries, and in particular public libraries, share many common features, but each evolves in the local environment of its own users.

However, I feel safe in predicting that books will remain the focus of public libraries for a long time. Especially if Katherine has anything to do with it.

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