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>I don’t mean to sound morbid, but as a librarian I am sometimes faced with a choice of what gets to survive. In good times most libraries have to fight for funding. In bad, it’s a war zone. I myself am a casualty, but it’s the library as a whole that really worries me. In a day and time when funds are tighter than tight and space is precious, I am faced with a particular conundrum (ooh, that’s a fun word!). How do we protect aging periodicals? hearing crickets Magazines, people, magazines. I’ve got a 9×14 ft. storage room with floor to ceiling magazines. 2009 Motor Trends followed by 40 years of National Geographic. Some we keep for only a year or so, (bridal fashions are so fleeting anyhow), while others we maintain an archive of. No one may ever look at a 1968 issue of Life, but it’s good to have. They are pieces of history. Just like the vertical file from my previous posting, these yellowed and crackling glossies have their value. As much as I loooooove databases, they have a limit as to how many years they go back. You just can’t get everything on the Internet. Not yet, anyhow.

So, my problem is what to do about the mass of magazines shelved in the storage room. By the way, this storage room also contains the school’s video retrieval unit. Two columns house 10 VCRs, 3 laserdisc players, and 1 DVD player (no, this isn’t a typo), a third section has boxes and the actual server, and a fourth is a small table with an ancient desktop. The purpose of the unit is this; library staff inserts AV material into the player, programs computer to play video during time slots to match teacher’s classes and teacher receives a remote for TV in the classroom to control video playback. Seems nifty, right? It’s a micromanaging nightmare. Do I really have the time to fuss with this video, that player, programming time slots, checking out remotes? NO! Somebody has control issues and it’s not me this time. Moreover, the unit hasn’t worked properly since before I started and most of the TV’s in the classrooms have been replaced with ceiling-mounted projectors. Teachers just check out DVDs to play from their computers or, since we still have some VHS cassettes, borrow a VCR from somewhere when needed.* So, we’re left with a gargantuan structure caked with dust inside and out. You can’t get in to clean either the electronics or the magazines and I fear that some small creature has already made a bed of pieces of Time 1988-1992.

At this time, the periodicals are more valuable than the equipment because so many of them are irreplaceable. We need adequate space to maintain the collection and we need money to purchase archival quality cases and boxes. Space and money are the issues. Although I would love to take the video retrieval unit to deserted field, ala Office Space, the powers that be still think it’s worthy of having, so the only real issue up for discussion is money. Do we forgo funding for areas of everyday use to save historic documents or do we let history fall by the wayside to keep up with the circulating collection?

I shouldn’t have to make this choice. I actually won’t have to since my job has been eliminated, but that just makes it worse because now there really won’t be anyone to take up the cause. Some may see it as a luxury to preserve history while also working for current and future needs. I see it as essential to civilization to have both. In a time of economic downturn, when libraries and librarians are getting hit with cuts left and right, what’s your answer?

*Don’t even ask about video streaming, as I already told you this system has a 10:1 ratio of VCRs to DVD players, so you have an idea of the level of technology in this school.

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