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A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

A Rant on Libraries and Their Destiny

So this is what libraries have come to!

Time Magazine reports that the director of the library system in Fairfax County, VA., is presiding over the destruction of books including classics like For Whom the Bell Tolls and To Kill a Mockingbird. Time magazine reports that they will destroy any book not checked in the last two years.

The director is quoted as saying "We're being very ruthless. A book is not forever."

I beg to differ.

Putting aside exigencies like mold and fire, a book is forever. The piece in my newsletter, "Sharing with Writers," is about the palimpsest from which our scientists are struggling to retrieve the remains of some of Archimedes's work. That they are doing so puts the lie to that "not forever" remark about as well as anything.

That people love old books, even those on ancient parchment, is not new. What is new to me is that our libraries have come to this. Aren't libraries the repositories of a culture. Think one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the library at Alexandra. Think the new one that Alexandrians have built in its place, put their hearts and soul into!

Libraries are places where people can go to find To Kill a Mockingbird when the spirit moves them or when someone (Praise be!) chooses to talk to our young people again about tolerance. Or when . . . .well, you get the idea.

What about the concept of free press and free speech. What about the idea that ideas of all kinds should be available to our populace not just the popular ones. Who gets to judge what is popular anyway. Do we measure that like this librarian did. With the number of times a book has been checked out. Do we let a librarian decide on its political slant. Or its religious one. Certainly not if every librarian's mandate is as poorly realized at this one's who appears to equate "popular" with "quality" or "needed."

I'm really, really ticked off at this one. Of course all libraries can't keep every book that ever decked its stacks. Economics are a consideration. But I believe that we hire good librarians (and good directors) to make decent choices for the good of the community and it seems to me that this particular director got it wrong.

I also believe that we get the kind of libraries (and government) we deserve. It looks as if we are all doomed.

Tips and Tidbits

Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors and a tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.

Writers' Tidbit: Carolyn has a new blog, actually a resource for writers who want their reviews republished (with permission of the original publishing journal and the reviewer, of course!). Visit it at You might even look for some of Carolyn's old reviews there—with permission from MyShelf editor and guru Brenda Weeaks, of course.

Readers' Tip: Are you tired of long-winded reviews? You just want to know what the book's about and what the reviewer thought. Fast. So you can get to reading!? Then, in addition to, pick up a Time Magazine from a shelf at your library when you're there. They often run reviews. Even little series of reviews. They're punchy. Well-written. No frills.

2007 Past Columns

A Rant on Libraries and Their Destiny

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