Libraries on the Chopping Block: a rebuttal to Horrigan's "Libraries at the Crossroads"   ---CONTINUED---

Part of this power-grab is to shift collection management decisions away from all librarians to a handful of "executives" who have access to governing boards and control of software that monitors collection use. The Pew study shows a lack of critical thought, possibly a lack of integrity and intelligence on the part of pollsters and those who follow them. Though the Foundation often separates library data by size of library, this poll neglected to factor this in. These tables compare apples and oranges, making the findings unreliable.

Huge libraries in older cities may have floors to spare. In some communities, patronage has declined and managers are trying to attract the underserved or those who don’t ever use the library. People who find libraries irrelevant are “a market” librarians are trying to attract—by changing what libraries do. On the other hand, small, crowded libraries with high usage suffer when their books are removed to create space. In communities where small libraries are filled to bursting, every inch is assessed for the "value" it provides. Any book in that contested space is a target for removal.

E-Book Collections and Databases don't fill the void left by empty shelves. Meaningful book collections are built up year after year, yielding search results full of surprises, contradictions and intellectual depth—not the latest, easy answers. To achieve such results online requires rigorous searching and clear guides on how material is indexed. Books classified in a library have gone through this process and users enjoy the organized results. Standing in an aisle of books, they see how much more there is on every subject. Electronic collections are not a substantive replacement for print collections. They are different. Much research and many surveys omit half the story: how people use the “valuable legacy function” of printed books. Could this be why 25% of those surveyed by the Pew Foundation strongly oppose the removal of their books?

There are large unanswered questions. Are there hidden social costs to trading books for space? Is the purge of print collections a way to circumscribe and reduce the depth of information that supports democracy—impairing critical thought and destroying independent judgment? If so, this casts the Pew Foundation and its “analysis of libraries” in a different light. (Secret police with suspect in the basement under a bare bulb?) Library advocates should dig deeply into the data and question the conclusions put forward by the Pew Foundation. Instead of docile acceptance of their surveys, readers should demand to know who funds disruptive change in the library world. We should advance our own values, urging library leaders to show restraint and preserve what is best in book-filled libraries.