Selection (Was: LCSH needed: Presidential expenditures)

Posting to Autocat

On 24/09/2012 21:49, Marc Truitt wrote:

On 09/24/2012 04:35 PM, Mitchell, Michael wrote:

Yes, I think all libraries should have a formal policy such as, “We don’t collect self-published drivel.” That would preclude collecting and cataloging titles such as the one in question.

Um… perhaps I’m not understanding, Michael: what exactly qualifies as “self-published drivel”? Is the operative part “self-published” or “drivel”? Is it akin to pornography, which the Supreme Court has in the past essentially defined as something it can’t define, other than (to paraphrase) “we know it when we see it, and it offends community standards”?

And in either case, shouldn’t *somebody* collect it? A lot of extremist political material probably would fall under what you categorize as “self-published drivel”, but if nobody collects it and makes it accessible through cataloguing, how is anyone to do research on the views of those who espouse it? How would, for example, an academic do research on right-wing survivalists in the Northwest, if all of us dismissed and then ignored the published work of such individuals and groups as “self-published drivel”?

Perhaps you might clarify, lest I’ve missed something?

I believe this is a major problem, not only for libraries but also for the public. Many do not understand the reasons and purpose of what is and what is not, placed in a library collection or “library selection”. When I was at one institution, I found so many misperceptions that I wrote a page “What is a library?” to try to explain at least a bit of it. Among other points, I discussed “The protocols of the Elders of Zion” and I will note that a copy is still not available in Google Books, although you can still find it on many sites on the web through Google, and you can find scans of it in the Internet Archive. This lack of access in Google Books represents marketing concerns on Google’s part, I am sure.

The page I wrote represents a traditional library viewpoint, rather idealistic. In the greater world of the world wide web, where all kinds of controversial viewpoints are available so easily (I need only note the latest tragic incidents with the Mohammed movie, “Innocence of Muslims”), the problems today are not so much that a “controversial” resource is difficult to get, but that it is incredibly easy to get–perhaps too easy. I suggest that the traditional view of library selection needs to change to provide some level of “trust” or “reliability” in some sort of way. I know I am leaving myself open to all kinds of criticisms with this suggestion, but I think libraries need to differentiate themselves from the world wide web in some way today, so that the public can approach the library catalog with some level of “trust” (however that word may be defined).

Junk is easier to find than ever before. As I wrote in a paper I gave at ALA recently (, and taking my cue from Clay Shirkey, I think that with online sites, libraries should consider themselves as “filters” since members of the public are asking for it. People want selection–that has been made very clear. I confess that this is only a suggestion and it is vague in my mind at the moment–also, it could be misused very easily, but I believe it is very important to embark upon a reconsideration of library selection for online materials.