Top 40 Books

This isn’t a “best-of” list, it’s a rant –or rather, a lament. You never miss a good thing until it’s gone. When I was young, the (often #1 rated!) Columbus Metropolitan Library was the center of my life. I happily lost myself in the stacks and discovered books and authors that continue to shape my imaginative and intellectual horizons.

On the face of it, nothing has happened to the library –in fact, it recently completed a multi-million dollar makeover, complete with a series of shiny new buildings across the city. And yet, when you go in, the first thing you notice is that it’s a big empty building. What’s missing? The books.

I first noticed nearly a decade ago that the library suddenly seemed like a less interesting place. It used to be that I could randomly go up to any shelf and find a wealth of things to interest me and stimulate my imagination. Now I couldn’t find even things I was looking for –things I had found at the library previously. When I quizzed the librarians at first I was told that books had just been moved around, sent into circulation, or made available through interlibrary loan. Finally, however, I learnt the truth. The new policy was to purge the collection of all books that hadn’t been checked out in the last five years.

I felt like Obi Wan Kenobi when Alderaan blew up. I was naive, I guess, when I thought all those books would always be there for me. I think I could have understood and accepted if a few of them had disappeared over the years. But all of them at once?

This might seem like a dramatic overreaction. After all, if no one has checked a book out in five years, what possible point is there in keeping it around? And yet, that was where the magic was. It was the books you had never heard of, the books no one had read recently. Those were always the good ones.

What is left on the shelves is Top 40 literature –all the hits, all the time, and nothing else, the pop music of books. It’s like Blockbuster Videos, rows and rows of the latest hits, and then nothing. And why? Why limit the bandwidth so severely? There are literally rows and rows of half-empty shelves, floating in a huge empty building, along with the tree-less, joy-less, sterile new children’s area.

I know that beloved old collection is never coming back –it’s gone the way of Alexandria and Constantinople now. But this is my open plea to the Columbus Metropolitan Library system. Bring back the magic. And stop dumping the books.

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