Monday, 29 June 2015

Why We Need Good Libraries

For the past two years I have been researching the impact of climate change on food and agriculture. The other day I searched the University of Regina Library for five serious books that I wanted to read. They had none of them. I checked out Amazon, and of course they had them, but the cost of the books ranged between $100 and $200. It is not at all unusual to find that the science books cost even more – up to $400 to $500. That’s why we need good libraries.

However, the trend across Canada is for libraries to buy fewer and fewer books. Some seem to have virtually stopped five or ten years ago. Libraries are also getting rid of books, or putting them in warehouses where access if very difficult. I noticed last year in Peterborough that I was almost the only person in the stacks at Trent University looking for books. Everyone else was on the Internet, which apparently has all the info that anyone needs to have.

Then of course there is the Stephen Harper government which is shutting down and destroying science libraries and research programs. Book burners.

The Library of Congress
Main Reading Room, Jefferson Building.

Here is a real library, from Margaret Truman:

“The Library of Congress ... houses more than 115 million ‘items’ on 532 miles of bookshelves in three large buildings: more than 17 million books. ... There are 2 million recordings, 12 million photographs, 4 million maps and 47 million manuscripts. ..The LC has holdings in 460 languages. It has four thousand employees, some of whom serve overseas in offices in Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, New Delhi, Islamabad, Jakarta and Nairobi, in acquisition offices in Moscow and Tokyo.” (Yes, I am re-reading her Murder at the Library of Congress.)

The LC has a huge staff of professionals and scholars whose job it is to search anywhere in the world for good collections and try to acquire them. Even purchase them. But then, the USA is the centre of the unipolar world.

I am pleased to report that when I was a graduate student in Washington, D.C. I worked full time in the LC, 1957-61. I started working in the stacks, then moved up to the Reference Department in the Main Reading Room of the Jefferson Building, the only one at the time. From there I advanced to the Manuscripts Division, where I worked in the Presidential Papers section. It was charged with cataloging all the Presidents’ papers which were part of the LC collection. I worked as an Archivist-Historian on the papers of Grover Cleveland, Calvin Coolidge and Abraham Lincoln. Not a bad job, eh? Left it to join the U.S. Foreign Service and work at the Department of State.

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