In a piece that will send cultural alarm bells ringing through library systems everywhere, The Washington Post’s Lisa Rein writes that “in the effort to stay relevant in an age in which reference materials and novels can be found on the Internet and Oprah’s Book Club helps set standards of popularity, libraries are not the cultural repositories they once were.”

That’s not the hook of the piece. The hook is more topical and, in this case, the hook is in the headline: “Hello, Grisham — So Long, Hemingway?” The gist is that, with shelf space at a premium, libraries are culling books that don’t see much action. In the article, the situation is viewed through the lens of Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Library system, but a quote from the president of the American Library Association indicates it may be the new library reality.

“I think the days of libraries saying, ‘We must have that, because it’s good for people,’ are beyond us,” said Leslie Burger, president of the American Library Association and director of Princeton Public Library. “There is a sense in many public libraries that popular materials are what most of our communities desire. Everybody’s got a favorite book they’re trying to promote.”

Back in Fairfax, a lot of perennial favorites are currently on the chopping block of some of the branches in the system, including Sexual Politics by Kate Millett, The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway and many, many others. The complete list — and the Post’s piece — are here.

News Reporter

1 thought on “So Long, Hemingway

  1. So no follow-up to the piece on the Fairfax County Public Library? Because if you did just a bit more digging you might find that a few facts were left out.

    For instance: Lisa Rein wrote in the article "Classics such as Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" are among the titles that haven't been checked out in two years and could be eliminated. Librarians so far have decided to keep them."

    This leaves the impression that "For Whom The Bell Tolls' is being culled from the library system, when in fact there are currently 66 copies, another 8 version of the unabridged version, an e-book version, 4 VHS and 4 DVDs.

    As for "To Kill a Mockingbird", there are 113 print copies available, an e-book that anyone can download, large-print version and several audio versions.

    The original article left a lot of information out that, if included, would have painted a much better picture of the Library system.

    You should at least amend your posting to show the response from the Library:
    http://fairfaxcountypubliclibrary.blogspot.com/2007/01/classic-literature-at-fairfax-county.html

    http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/library/niceandcurious/into_the_fray.htm

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