Monday, July 15, 2013

Illnois* (for Illinois*)

A scandal at the Urbana Free Library in Illinois has resulted in the ouster of its director after it was revealed that over 9,000 nonfiction books had been weeded from the collection in less than a week's time. Two hundred and fifty-nine boxes of books were later retrieved from the retailer where they had been sent after a protest was lodged by the library's board and patrons, although it wasn't clear exactly how many items that included. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess, but lemme do the math for ya. That's one book identified, rejected, pulled from the shelf, and boxed up approximately once every ten seconds. It's hard to imagine how that many titles could even be blindly crossed off a list, or randomly selected for deletion, in such a short amount of time, much less by using "normal professional judgment," something the discarded library director later suggested her pressured staff should have been employing. Maybe someone should suspend normal profession judgment and create a GIF of a wild-eyed librarian frantically defenestrating books, over a banner reading: "9,600 books thrown out of the UFL in just 4 days!" Shades of SNL's Linda Richman, one Urbana resident observed that the library's strategic plan was "neither strategic nor planned." This particular weeding crisis ended relatively happily, but not all of them do. For a true cautionary tale, I recommend checking out "The Author vs. the Library" by Nicholson Baker, which is about the building of the San Francisco New Main Library, and was published in the New Yorker on October 14, 1996. To illustrate the thorny issue of "weeding," I chose the one pictured here out of a great many featured, free for the picking, on Wikimedia Commons, for several reasons: firstly, because it's one of the most commonly known weeds in the world; secondly, because its Latin name (Taraxacum officinale) sounds like a mash-up of Taxpayers and Officials, both of which effectively came together to respond to this back-door book-booting brouhaha; and thirdly, because the word dandelion always puts me in mind of Patience and Fortitude, the two big dapper cats guarding the New York Public Library, which houses a very large collection of books and certainly isn't above a few scandals of its own. We found 20 examples of Illnois* in OhioLINK today, and 307 in WorldCat.

(Smetánka lékařská - zralá semena, by Jakub Kolář, 11.5.2008, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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