Normally I turn to Cracked for levity which begets fascination which begets something vaguely unsettling and distressing, but not actually of importance to my existence (an article I usually get to about 15 minutes before I’m going to go to bed, which is the perfect time to be creeped out by the world). Okay, so maybe “6 Reasons We’re in Another ‘Book-Burning’ Period in History” didn’t exactly sound like a rollicking good time, but I was expecting Cracked to deliver something funny and dubiously connected. I wasn’t expecting a really sad breakdown of what libraries do when there’s no more money to keep the books they’ve already got: burn them. Even if they are incredibly valuable first editions or of some historical significance or perhaps the only extant copy (physical or otherwise). Because it’s the most cost effective thing to do and needs to be done and there’s no money to do what many of us would think makes sense and because maybe in some ways the digital age means throwing out the baby with the bathwater. My reading process was very much “But why can’t they…? Oh. But surely they could…? Oh.”
It seems like this is something worth contemplating, as we face down an age in which we value physical objects less and less and digital ones more and more. It’s a pretty safe guess that today’s children’s children will not have anywhere near the attachment to books as objects that I do—I grew up as the world was beginning this shift, so even my grasp is at times tenuous, where things like music and photos are concerned—so it seems like maybe this problem will more or less go away on its own. Not because we’ll stop burning books, but because people like me will stop being around to find it sad and surprising.
So it saddens me, perhaps for dubious reasons, that this is the reality. I have no answers, and I strongly suspect that the people who do these things don’t come to the decision lightly. But I do know we have some librarians lurking round these parts, so I wonder if you’ve ever had to face this very task. Have you found an alternative solution? Or found a way to come to terms with tossing books onto the pyre? Is it just the symbolism that’s getting me down?