Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Weeding: Part Three, Obsolete

So what’s the difference between out-dated (or out-of-date) and obsolete. Both terms mean old. Dated material is old and potentially wrong. Obsolete is old and no longer used.

Being a dad, and having three children (who are no longer children) I remember listening to their Pediatrician tell us how our babies should sleep. When the first was born we were told she should sleep on her side. A year and a half later we were told number two should sleep on his stomach. When number three arrived, several years later (we learned a valuable lesson), she was supposed to sleep on her back. The moral of the story is health information can sometimes change at the whim of prevailing thinking. Then it can change back, again.

Some health practices from long ago are dangerous. We don’t use leeches any more to bleed people when they are sick.

Let’s use another illustration. Telling time. Are analog timepieces rarely used anymore? Most kids’ couldn’t tell time using a clock to save their computer reservations. Most of what we use is digital. Does this mean analog is useless and inaccurate? We have analog clocks throughout the library. The technology is dated but still used. Instead, think sundials.

So, what books become obsolete? How about multiple copies of best sellers no longer best sellers. Do we really need several copies of an old Tom Clancy novels? How about Leon Uris? How about the “Classics”? Romance novels from the 40’s? Technical manuals for twenty year old computers? Dime westerns from the 19th century? Books on how to use a slide-rule? The 3rd edition of “What color is my parachute?”? How about the 3rd edition of Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”?

Somebody somewhere may want something we consider obsolete. But then, we can’t hold onto everything assuming somebody, somewhere is going to want it and knows we have it.

The problem isn’t getting rid of obsolete material. The problem is getting rid of material which isn’t obsolete, just not used very often. What about classics? Or older literature in need of modern editing? Do we weed it just because it’s written in a style of writing that is hard to comprehend for the modern ear?

How do we determine what books are obsolete?

Gerald F. Ward

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