By David Tulis
The Friends of the Library used book sale took F$19 from me yesterday in exchange for seven hardbacks and six paperback books I found in the short time I had to look for volumes for my thin personal library.
The event featuring 30,000 volumes and pieces of media runs through Tuesday (Nov. 18) in Eastgate Town Center. The last is “bag day” in which you depart with books, magazines, books on CD and the like, paying a tiny F$5 per bag. Regular prices are F$2 per hardback, a sawbuck for a paperback. Monday (Nov. 17) is “half price day.
Friday in Chattanooga librarians from around the U.S. gather to discuss the future of their field, residing mostly in the hand of government and universities. The Chattanooga public library has been fiercely disgorging books since the arrival of its innovative head, Corinne Hill, who has flown through two layers of flak. One layer is against her subsidized professional travels. The second is from critics who oppose her emptying shelves of ostensibly useless historical and other volumes.
Nearly 140,000 volumes have been discarded, some that critics say are difficult to replace. Hundreds of books, magazines and encyclopedia sets deemed in bad condition were hauled to Orange Grove recycling center. The discards are described as having been tired and not well maintained over 20 years. Mrs. Hill describes the discarded volumes as mildewed, torn and outdated. “Just because you have a bunch of books doesn’t mean you have a good collection,” she said. “One of the most important things we do is book collection and de-selection.”
Library field restored?
As a book lover and a dissenter of the idea of state control of libraries, I favor the shift of worthy books into private hands. The age of state absolutism is at an end, and the return of the private library becomes attractive. Who would run a private library? A church. A school. An association dedicated to certain high ideals or principles. To have stores of knowledge determined by state employees and the progressive perspective is a danger, just as it is a peril for a people to have education be almost universally converted into schooling, with schools in charge largely of the state.
A great reader, on his death, has an estate worth keeping and organizing, especially if he was dedicated to an ideal such as classical art, constitutional liberty, entrepreneurship and the marketplace, or Christianity. A library stewarded by a dedicated thinking man is a better one than that overseen by a committee submissive to the political and economic status quo. I suggest that my tiny library could be more helpful to thinking men and women of the future than 20 rows of stacked volumes at a state-run library.
The digital era is changing the nature of the library, as Mrs. Hill asserts. More material than ever is online. Books via screen are available for free at Gutenberg.org and Scribd. A favorite economist, Gary North, has most of his books available for download. If I want, I might print out any of them, and even comb-bind them, avoiding the printing trade.
Page vs. screen
But that prospect does not appeal. Neither does having all the literature I read in college placed into a single lighted box such as a Kindle. A book is a physical object, bound and laid out on a printed page. It is a thing of beauty, from cover to index. It makes claims upon the reader different than those made on the screen of a PC, tablet or smartphone. Reading at length and in detail is, I believe, stimulative of creative genius and a powerful force for the deepening of a reader’s character and wisdom. Reading in a book, perhaps, affords that plenitude. A printed volume yields no interruptions from within itself or reminders, blips, blinks or messages. It communicates not with the world, with access to the Web; it communicates to one reader at a time.
The author and its words control whether the reader is wiser, more informed and perhaps more godly afterward. Depending on the writer, the reader may alternately be given more in charge of folly, fantasy, materialism or chaos. Regardless of their content, books have their own geography, their own relationship with the reader spatially, especially if a reader marks them for his own use.
I can despair that Chattanooga Public Library lets go some of the books I bought. But I am glad to have them, am not set back too much, and can be happy knowing that volunteers at Friends of the Library graciously gave of their time to help in the fund-raising effort.
I suggest you take advantage of this semiannual event.
Joy Lukachik Smith, “War of Words: Book purge called necessary, but pains Chattanooga Public Library supporters,” Chattanooga Times Free Press, Oct. 19, 2014