Book burning: more harm than good?

Posted on November 2, 2011


Book burning: the idea conjures images of ritualistic censorship, the burning of Jewish literature during the Third Reich, Aztec scripture under the conquistadors, or the burning of books and their scholars under the Qin Dynasty. The ritual reflects an age thought to be long gone, left behind in the darker times of man. However, times have undoubtedly changed.

Economic standing and the exponential growth of the literature world has left thousands of libraries and book stores out of business and laden heavily with books they cannot liquidate. Therefore, what would their solution be? To dispose of them, of course.

Take, for example, perhaps one of the most prestigious libraries in the world, the British Library. Located in London, dating back to 1753, it houses over 14 million books, second in the world only to the Library of Congress. Some of the manuscripts located in the building date as far back as 2000 B.C. To assure a complete collection, they receive one copy of every book published, and it is accommodated within their library.

With so many books being published every year, it’s easy to see why even the most prestigious library would dispose of surplus books. Obviously, libraries do not have infinite space within their halls; however, what they’ve done in this case is hard to defend, as David McKie put it, due to its “stealthiness.”

“Faced with a genuine problem, they might have shared it with the reading public, appealing for help, advice and offers of extra storage space. They did not. The practice only came to light by accident, when people came across books purged from the library.”

However, in some cases, book burning doesn’t only occur under the eyes of expanding libraries and book stores. Take, for example, the former book store company known as Borders. Rising sales in eBooks and the shrinking of the economy put them completely out of business, and left with hundreds of thousands of books that they could not liquidate. Their daughter company Waldenbooks, which went out of business in January, trashed the majority of their book collection prior to the closing of their 200 stores. And this is because it’s much cheaper than donating or recycling the books. Instead of hiring the manpower to document, stock, and shelve the donated books at local libraries or schools, it’s much easier to dump them at a paper recycling plant, where they can receive money for the pulp.

So upon reflection, it’s easy to see why these book stores and libraries have chosen to take the route less traveled in terms of disposal. While it’s completely indefensible and outrageous that they’ve chosen to do this instead of donating the said books, with so many publications and not enough revenue in the market of books, one still should recognize the number one reason why libraries are going belly up and burning their books: They are going digital.

Ever since the 1980’s and microfilm, libraries have been scanning and documenting books on a digital scale. However, in the modern age of the Internet and tablet technology, eBooks have begun to outsell printed books. For every 100 books being sold on Amazon, 105 Kindle eBooks are sold, as of early 2011. In fact, the growth of eBooks is one of the reasons why Borders went bankrupt earlier this year.

So, we should ask ourselves these simple questions: Does this technology do more harm than good? Are books becoming a thing of the past? Is the practice of book burning donned earlier by dictators and totalitarian rulers now deemed defensible in the modern world?

Perhaps in the modern age, it is. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and these are indeed hard times. The only thing one can infer is that perhaps the library being known as the “Museum of the Book” is not quite a stretch from the truth.

Reported by Ian seipker

Posted in: News