Sunday, January 07, 2007

My Local Library System Responds

Classic Literature at the Fairfax County Public Library by Edwin S. Clay, III:
You may have recently read an article -- or comments generated by an article -- about classic literature in the Fairfax County Public Library. I would like to correct the misleading impression given in the article and by others about this issue.

There are classic texts that are widely regarded as some of the most important literature in western culture. These include works by Aristotle, Hemingway, Proust, Faulkner, Bronte, Fitzgerald, Angelou and many others. We are committed to offering classic texts by important writers like these in our library system.

Recent media reports have misled readers to believe that we’ve eliminated all copies of classic titles from our branches. This could not be further from the truth. Although we occasionally have to trim the number of copies we offer in a particular branch, we definitely keep multiple copies of these works in the Fairfax County Public Library. In some cases, we’re even able to offer the text in multiple formats: in large print, on CD, as an e-book, or in languages other than English.

Because there’s a growing demand for more and more books in more and more formats, we have to balance the need to offer classic literature, and satisfy public demand, with the physical limitations of our finite shelf space. We are physically unable to warehouse every book that every resident may want to read. Therefore we have to make difficult decisions about what items to keep in our collection.

These decisions are based on standard industry practices refined by library professionals over many years. We use complex formulas, computer data and the expertise of librarians with decades of professional experience to decide which items to offer to the public. If you’re interested in understanding this very complex process, feel free to ask any of our branch managers.

In the meantime, as the director of the Fairfax County Public Library, I want to assure you that we take our stewardship of public property very seriously. We make every effort to manage the public’s investment in library materials in a prudent, reasonable and rational way.

Sample classic literature available in the Fairfax County Public Library:

Works of Aristotle by Aristotle -- 107 copies of various titles
Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner -- 99 copies on CD, cassette, large print and regular print
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway -- 108 copies on VHS, cassette and regular print
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee -- 359 copies on CD, cassette, DVD, VHS, large print, e-book and regular print
Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams -- 116 copies on VHS and regular print (including in some volumes of collected plays)
Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak -- 50 copies on CD, cassettes and regular print
I was afraid the article was misleading. It was, but even in ways I could not predict.

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