Pruning books in libraries

For obvious reasons of space management and updating of collections, library managers must periodically prune, that is to say, identify documents that are no longer adequate for the mission and the audiences, then do choices, sometimes difficult, to withdraw them from circulation.

Pruning requires tools, criteria, and a method, to be carried out. The criteria considered by librarians concern the condition of the document, its use, but also the relevance and value of the content. Documents are deselected when, for example, they are no longer in use, deteriorated, contain scientifically obsolete information, or, in an academic context, when they cease to be relevant to the curricula otherwise l level of education. The presence of discriminatory stereotypes (sexist, racist, ethnic, religious, cultural, social, physical or other) constitutes an important criterion of content. The quality of the language and the illustrations can also be questioned.

In the case of national libraries, the question arises differently, because their mandate is to ensure the acquisition and permanent conservation of all works published in the territory that they cover or that directly or indirectly concern that territory. But, in all cases, collection management, of which pruning is a part, is taught in library and information science schools. Thus, librarians have the professional preparation required to undertake these activities with discernment and competence.

It should be added that deselection does not necessarily lead to the elimination of documents. This does not mean that, from a professional perspective, we never eliminate books in the library; we certainly pound it. But this is only one of the actions available, after deselection, that coexists with other solutions, such as reorienting them in other sections, storing them in a depot or store. It can also be donated to other libraries if not to organizations. Destruction by fire in a symbolic staging is not part of professional practice.

In the case of the Providence Catholic School Board in Ontario, to what extent have or have school librarians been involved in this initiative? To what extent has their professional expertise been taken into account, if so, in the various stages of this process, the means and ends of which do not fit into the context of routine pruning? Because it seems, in fact, that we are facing an instance of censorship, blacklisting and even an autodafé for the thirty or so books that were burned and whose ashes were collected to fatten the earth of a newly planted tree. It is a loaded symbol for a school library, its young audience and the community more broadly. The autodafe is the work of a self-proclaimed group of censors who act from their particular version of morality or religion. These ingredients were present in this Catholic denominational institution in Ontario, and the ceremony proved, moreover, to be a pure fabrication having nothing to do, as representatives of the First Peoples have pointed out, with Aboriginal traditions.

Guarantee of competence

Thus, librarians and archivists are not simply there to store documents, objects of reading or memory. These information scientists are, and must remain, a bulwark against ever-changing forms of censorship. Their academic and scientific preparation is a pledge of competence which should not be underestimated and, among the services they can render to society, this commitment to intellectual freedom contributes closely to their mission in terms of access. , preservation and creation of knowledge.

In recent years, the challenges of professionals have become more complex than ever. Traditionally, library subscribers have made retrieval requests because they felt the library was too inclusive when it offered content deemed sexually explicit, violent, or too progressive for audiences. Today, withdrawal requests have been added where it is now judged that the library is not inclusive enough when it offers content perceived as racist, sexist, or disadvantageous for marginalized groups.

We can therefore be surprised by the deafening silence of our major institutions regarding this extremely hot issue and the challenges that accompany it. Where is Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ)? Where are the big public libraries? We did not find any position taken by the main documentary institutions to denounce this event and take part in the debate.

Collective reflection on these questions which affect professional circles and society as a whole is however inevitable. As several have argued, including Ariane Régnier, president of the Association for the Promotion of School Documentary Services, the goal is not to empty library collections, but to renew them and be more involved in practicing critical mediation work with documents presenting slag.

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