I began this post about a year ago and just rediscovered it … like a jewel in a mine! I have lots more to say about the strategies and philosophies we ought to be employing in decisions about on- vs off-campus collections, but this is a start.
I’m an English Prof. who was trained at the height of New Historicism, which meant that you had to run to the library every couple of hours to read a few hundred more books and pamphlets. It felt like being a dwarf in the mines of Moria. The object of the exercise if you’re a historian is to get a big grant, go to some mine (library) that no one looks at very much, and find some unknown stuff, then bring it back and show everyone your jewels. It’s kind of lonely–ironically, because history is supposed to be about society and all.
This struck me as a pretty evocative description of the traditionalist view of libraries — especially for those who think of libraries as browsable collections that facilitate browsing and serendipity.
Is this the kind of activity we (the Royal we, meaning the vast majority of libraries across the country/world) should be trying to preserve as we are forced by space and funding constraints to reduce the size of our on-campus print collections?
If so, then perhaps we ought to be keeping the items with the lowest use in browsable stacks on campus, and sending the high-circulation stuff off-campus. I’m pretty sure most of us are doing exactly the opposite.