Observations on the story referenced below:
- No one in Houston Public Library is quoted and no indication is given that anyone was interviewed — rather the entire article is based on the press release alone. I find that very odd for a Houston Chronicle article that ran on the front page of a section.
- The story first ran as a blog entry — this is the first time I’ve seen a blog entry reprinted in the local paper, word for word.
Bookless readers, readerless books: Library lover shelved
Serendipity gets lost in renovation on the downtown library building
— reported by the Houston Chronicle
The library has launched a $14.9 million renovation of its central downtown building.
Earlier this month, the library closed two of its four floors normally open to the public. Books from major portions of the collection — arts, science, social sciences, business — can no longer be browsed. Rather, we must request specific titles from already overworked librarians.
Cutting off direct access to part of the collection compounds a problem that already existed at the main Houston library. Many books, especially older titles (older than a decade or so, that is), are placed in “stacks”; that is, they are shelved on floors without public access. The thinking seems to be, if we have limited space, let’s devote it to new books, not good, important, enduring or useful books.
The entire Central Library will close on April 3, “and is expected to reopen by the end of 2007,” according to the carefully hedged language of a library press release. “For full library service during the renovation, library customers are encouraged to use their neighborhood libraries.”
There are 36 such branch libraries in the city, all with small collections weighted toward the new and popular. Again, I don’t want to mislead: I will still be able to get the books I wish to read, but that will take more time and I will receive only the specific titles I request, nothing discovered by random good fortune. Interlibrary loan will remain, and it is a blessing. The Houston library has located books for me from collections as far away as Indiana and Arizona, as well as cities and universities all over Texas.
“Improvements and changes will be made to public services, creating a better library experience,” the press release assures us. There’s no mention in it of more books being added to the collection, which would seem to be a library’s principal obligation. Rather, not surprisingly, most of the money will be spent providing patrons with “access to state of the art technology.” Translation: more computers in a library where most computer screens, based on my frequent observation, are occupied by solitaire and other games, not scholarship.