Guest Post: Bedazzled by digital books and the Net, librarians slash national collection

A guest post by Jack5:

The National Library’s cull of 600,000 international books, half-completed, has been surprisingly little debated. What are the criteria for dumping books, and are our librarians misguided in believing that digital replacements for some of them will last? We mostly find librarians helpful and knowledgeable, but if the national librarians mirror those in the regions, they will likely be mainly at the leftist end of politics, and mainly wide-aWoke. Someone has to select books, but culling them is a step beyond that. Who culls the cullers? The National Library could put titles of culled books on-line so we could judge it’s fair and impartial in its purge. It could even partner with someone like TradeMe and auction the discards. The National Library Director Content Services, Rachel Esson, is reported at the Radio NZ web site as saying:
“”Libraries continue to grow and we are collecting New Zealand, Pacific and Maori material. That’s our core role, and we add to that collection between 80,000-100,000 items a year.”
The United States and the UK print nearly half a million book titles a year in English, and even Australia publishes more than 28,000. New Zealand produces about 3500 new titles and reprints a year. This includes a few hundred books about Maori, a minority of them in Maori language. Tonga and Western Samoa don’t even make the Wikipedia list of books published by country. The way society seeks and accesses knowledge has changed “so much,” with the advent of online tools, Esson told the reporter. She said:
“The biggest gaps in terms of access to online material, is New Zealand Maori and Pacific material – as the National Library, we want to focus on that.”
Is Esson dumping hundreds of thousands of books, to help finance digitising a few hundred Maori books a year? Some contractor in Dhaka might do that for a song. Esson and her colleagues are naive about the durability of digital books, online or not. Books available on the internet are in files somewhere. Print on paper can have extremely long life. The Buddhist Diamond Sutra, of Chinese characters printed on a scroll of grey printed paper, is about 1150 years old, and the ornately hand-written St Cuthbert Gospel is more than 1300 years old. Computerised files gradually become unreadable unless periodically renewed. Even products such as DVD M-discs designed to last for centuries, will, way in the future, require compatible hardware and programs to access their content. Esson says it costs $1 million a year to house the national book collection, which is trivial compared with the hundreds of millions politicians sprinkle like confetti. Renewing data files every few years, with costs of administration, hardware and software, could prove more expensive than paper-book storage costs – and less secure. The National Library’s “progress” in its book cull: How long digital information will last compared with information on paper:

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