Monday, 31 December 2012

Pulping is the new Book Burning

Swift's suggestion for solving the problem of starving children was to eat them- Manchester City Library's solution for needing more shelving space, is to pulp books.

The Nazis burnt books publicly.  Pulping, the next best thing, is happening behind the scenes in Manchester. Perhaps I am being too emotive but if you allow this sort of thing, without public consultation and no transparency, where will it lead?  Writers including Carol Ann Duffy, Jeanette Winterson and Michael Schmidt (also publisher of Carcanet) have signed a protest letter.  See

Neil MacInnes, Manchester's Head Librarian said, quoted in the Guardian: "While it is correct that some of the items which have been amassed over time will not be returning, these are obsolete items, such as outdated reference books, duplicates, such as paperbacks we have in hardback, or books in such poor condition it would not be viable to repair them. The idea that the library will be saying goodbye to valuable stock is just plain wrong."

What interests me in the above is the 'outdated' reference books, (who is to say they are of no interest to historians,  historical novelists and others) are being pulped and those 'in such poor condition' that  it is not 'viable' to repair them (who is to say they is not worth it?).

I have a grouse myself - the only copy of a Scots Gaelic edition of songs from Hiorta (St Kilda) which I know existed because I took it out a year or so ago, has now vanished from the Edinburgh City public libraries.  With the aid of a very helpful librarian we tracked down another edition in English. What has happened to the Gaelic version?  A mystery.  The librarian suggested that when books disappear it is usually because they are in such disrepair, it is not worth repairing them. It was fine when I took it out.  Besides, this book is a rare item. Ok, not rare in the sense of being worth a lot financially, only of minority interest in that Gaelic is a minority language and even more interesting in that some of the songs are in the St Kildan dialect which is distinct, and which, since the only inhabited island was evacuated in 1930 , there must be practically no one who speaks this dialect left alive, so rare and of value to linguists and Gaelic scholars and musicologists. It was a paperback copy therefore more fragile than a hardback. Surely, a torn spine, or page, or whatever the issue was, is not reason to destroy a book such as this.

There may well be a copy in Edinburgh National Library but their books are reference only. I wanted to take the copy out to play on the piano and use the language of the songs to inspire my own poetry.  No, the English version is not the same thing.

A minority interest? Yes. But isn't that the point of libraries? Otherwise, there'll be nothing there but Barbara Cartland,  and gameboys. (I kid you not. Look in some local public libraries.)

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