You may be tempted to keep older history materials, such as those written during the time the event was happening, because they are “important” or as valuable primary source material. Here’s the thing about primary sources: they are valuable and important; crucial to good research, even. Here’s the other thing about primary sources: they rarely belong in your average neighborhood public library. Why not? I can hear you shaking your heads! Why on earth would a public library weed primary source material?
If your public library’s mission includes a statement about archiving and preserving, then yes, primary sources are for you! If your public library’s mission involves providing college or professional-level research materials, then yes, primary sources are for you as well! For everyone else, whose public library missions are to support the educational, entertainment, and life-long learning needs of the community through popular materials and programming (for example), primary sources are not for you. You’ll be better off with books that put history in its proper context: the past.
Public libraries can serve the research needs of K-12 and maybe even community college students, as well as interested laypeople, through popular history books written in the last decade or so. Our public library customers are not doing deep historiography research requiring them to put their hands on primary source material. (And if they are, they can easily be referred to a library whose mission is to provide that kind of research material.)
And by the way, “preserving” does not mean keeping dusty volumes on shelves forever. It involves climate control and white gloves. You’re not doing the books, or society, any favors by piling primary sources in back rooms or cramming them into overfull shelves “in case someone needs them.” You’re not preserving anything. You’re actually damaging them, spreading mold, and encouraging dust.
There are plenty of good reasons why public library patrons might be interested in primary source material, but they rarely need it in the form of a book. The beauty of digitization means that diaries, speeches, plays, manuscripts, maps, and artwork are widely available to anyone, anywhere, any time! If Mr. Jones, who loves to read about history, wants to read the Emancipation Proclamation, or Susan B. Anthony’s speech on women’s right to vote, or Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech to Yankees fans, I can put copies of those documents in his hands in seconds! I can even get audio copies sometimes. (http://www.history.com/speeches is great, you guys!)
Here are some great links to digitized primary source material:
What about people in areas of the country without the internet? Yes, they do exist! Those may be the areas where primary sources are more appropriate on public library shelves, depending on their building’s organization, structure, size, staffing, etc. If they can’t manage to keep these materials appropriately stored or don’t have the space, they should consider sending patrons to their state library, a local university, or even special libraries or museums where appropriate. Perhaps locally-relevant primary sources could be kept at City Hall, in the county clerk’s office, at the local historical society, or even at a school, church, or service organization hall. It is better to refer to an institution that exists to archive and preserve primary sources, or at the very least one that can store or display them appropriately, than to handle them badly. Damaged primary sources help no one. Even closed-stacks-by-appointment-only is a better service than randomly interfiled primary sources on too-full shelves.
We’re all ears for other ideas on this subject! Let us know what you think!
As we close out National Library Week, we have yet another romance in the stacks. Our librarian wanna-be is Carolyn, who got the job at the library thanks to her powerful and connected uncle. Naturally, the handsome director is a complete jerk and a political “enemy” of Carolyn’s uncle and doesn’t want her on the staff. Uncle and his cohorts on the board override his concerns and she is hired. Aside from the jerk boss, Carolyn likes the job.
The boss is still not happy and is undermining Carolyn or yelling at her for one thing or another. Carolyn, however, finally gets to a point that she is going to resign. WHEN SUDDENLY, the long lost dad who abandoned her years ago contacts her and wants to reconcile. Of course he is dying. Literally. Jerk director man drives her to the hospital and tells the father he is Carolyn’s fiance. Jerk director guy wants her dying father to know she will be “taken care of.” THE BIG REVEAL: He really loves her and wants her to go to library school. Cue the music.
I know all of you are wiping your tears and are so happy for Carolyn now that she has everything: a library career AND a man!
Happy National Library Week everyone! I hope all of you got lots of praise and cash this week.
My library hired a new Director when our previous Director retired a while ago. As she read all the various manuals and documents left behind, she came upon a small collection of books in her new office. Since she has a great sense of humor and appreciates ALB, she bestowed some of the worst books she found upon us.
What we have here, my friends, is a very well-written, informative little tome on strategic planning for public libraries. At least, in the late 80s it was. When I saw the cover of this book I knew ALB had to have it. That hair! That outfit! The complete lack of anything technological in that office!
And then there’s what’s on the inside. The first picture (below) shows a woman pointing to a completely blank flip chart, smiling like she’s so proud of her fake presentation. (Maybe it just didn’t show up in the grainy black and white photos and there’s actually something on that white board?) Picture #2 shows a woman using a sweet old-school phone. The text on that page talks about how libraries have extensive vertical files. True, some libraries may still have vertical files, but many, many more have moved to web links or digitization. Picture #3 shows what looks like a computer, but is clearly old, old, old. Not a great representation of libraries today.
The text is dated in places, but surprisingly has a lot of pretty good advice too! But alas, I would have to weed it in favor of something completely current. Half-relevant doesn’t cut it upstairs in the Admin office.